SAVE MONEY ON TRAVEL
Want to get away without breaking the bank?
Want to get away without breaking the bank? We share 15 budget-friendly ways to help you spend more time enjoying yourself and less time worrying about money.
TRAVEL IN THE OFF-SEASON
Timing your travel can save you serious money -- plus you'll avoid the crowds.
For example, if a destination sees its highest tourist traffic in summer -- such as national parks, Europe and Canada -- plan your visit for winter, spring or fall. And, vice versa, in the summertime, head for popular winter destinations, such as ski resorts and Caribbean cruises. See Timed Travel for more ideas.
DON’T SURF. KAYAK
You can waste time and money wandering the Web to find the cheapest airfare. Instead, head for Kayak.com, which fetches fares (plus hotel rates and other travel products) from more than 140 sources. Click on the best deal, and Kayak.com will send you to a site where you can buy the ticket.
If your itinerary is not set in stone, you can boost your chances of finding a deal by using the flexible dates option, which searches for flights over a range of dates. See more of our favorite travel-booking Web sites.
BOOK A PACKAGE
Give yourself the gift of saving money. Bundling your airfare with a hotel or car rental is a great strategy, especially if you're making last-minute travel plans.
Airlines discount unbooked seats at the last minute by rolling them into packages, which don't list the fare reduction separately. You can find these bundled bargains at LastMinute.com, which specializes in last-minute getaways.
VACATION CLOSE TO HOME
The steep cost of airfare is enough to eat up any vacation budget. Instead, consider destinations to which you can drive. For a trove of ideas and itineraries in dozens of cities, check out the Day Trips series and Quick Escapes series from Globe Pequot Press.
Or try being a tourist in your hometown. Check out a tour guide book for your city, grab your camera and go explore.
RING UP A BETTER DEAL
If a hotel is run independently or is part of a regional chain, call the front desk and ask the clerk for an extra night's stay free, a discounted rate or free upgrade -- even if the hotel isn't currently advertising one. Independent and regional-chain hotels, which lack the marketing power of national chains, may be more willing to bend to fill an unexpected vacancy.
When you call, say something like, "I already have a reservation at another hotel at a cheaper rate, but I'll book with you if I can get a third night free."
BE A HAPPY CAMPER
It may not be the Ritz, but if you're up for an adventure, staying at a campsite can save you oodles of money.
ReserveUSA.com handles reservations for the USDA Forest Service, National Park Service and others. You'll find plenty of camps for less than $20 a night at locations ranging from mountain settings to beach-front sites.
For $15 to $35 a night, you can stay in a dorm-style room. (Make reservations online through Hostels.com.) Or for a little more money, many hostels offer private rooms for couples and families.
Most hostels come with communal kitchens and laundries, and some even offer perks such as high-speed Internet access, game rooms, TV rooms, hot tubs and organized activities for kids. Plus, many are in the center of town -– or in unique locales, such as California's Pigeon Point Lighthouse hostel pictured here.
TAKE A LEAP OF FAITH
Sometimes ignorance really is bliss. Book your travel through blind-booking sites such as Hotwire.com and Priceline.com and you can save a bundle.
For example, on rental cars, you specify the dates, car type and pick-up location, but you don't find out which company is offering you your nonrefundable rate until after you buy. The same goes for airfare and hotels on the sites.
GET IN TOUCH WITH NATURE
For budget-friendly activities, you can count on Mother Nature. For starters, consider national parks, forests and state parks. Miles of hiking and biking trails, beautiful vistas, fishing holes, beach retreats and rafting runs await.
Park entrance fees typically cost less than $10, or are free. And if you plan to visit several national parks this season, spring for the National Parks Pass ($50), which gives you and your party to all the parks for a year.
OPT FOR MOM-AND-POP
Try a small inn or a bed-and-breakfast instead of a big hotel. These mom-and-pop operations are often more flexible about discounting to fill vacancies than national hotel chains.
A great place to find deals on a bed and breakfast getaway: Sign up for free weekly e-mails from Bedandbreakfast.com. Every Wednesday, you'll receive a list of places offering deals of 20% or more off regular rates for the upcoming weekend in the city, state or region you prefer to visit. We recently spotted offers as high as 70% off on the site.
GET A HOME AWAYFROM HOME
Condo or house rentals can be a nice alternative to hotels. Vacation rentals generally offer more room and amenities for the same price as hotel rooms. Plus, their kitchens can spare you from having to dine out for every meal.
One of the best sites we've found for rental lodgings is at HomeAway.com.
SWAP YOUR HOUSE
How does free lodging sound? Trading homes with another person looking to get away can save you a bundle.
Aside from escaping hotel bills, a home exchange lets you save in other ways. By swapping cars, you can avoid renting one -- most exchangers are willing to trade cars, say the top clubs. And having a kitchen cuts your restaurant tab. Plus, you get more room to spread out and you can immerse yourself better into the local atmosphere.
See Mi Casa Es Su Casa for more information.
TAKE A LAST-MINUTE CRUISE
Deciding on a last-minute cruise can work to your advantage. When people who booked early cancel at the last minute, bargain-priced cabins become available. To find these deals, stop at SkyAuction.com or Moments-Notice.com.
Learn more tricks to get a deal on a last-minute vacation.
JOIN A FREQUENT FLIER PROGRAM
Whether you travel for business or pleasure, consider signing up for an airline's frequent-flier program. Enrollment is free, and you can start collecting miles on your first flight that you can eventually cash in for free flights, hotel stays, merchandise and other perks.
WebFlyer.com is the most useful site for comparing programs and for getting the best seat or upgrade for the miles you've earned.
Bidding for travel at Priceline.com can save you money on airfare and car rentals. But we particularly love it for snagging luxury hotels at discount prices. (Bids of less than $100 a night on luxury lodgings are often successful.)
Priceline's rates for four-star hotels are usually the best values available from online travel sites. Yet you can boost the chances that you'll submit the lowest possible winning bid by checking the message boards at Biddingfortravel.com, where recent Priceline users note their successful and unsuccessful bids.
MORE WAYS TO SAVE MONEY
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