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Summer Vacations for Less

Money-Saving Family Vacation Tips

With school almost out and the prospect of three months of summer stretching ahead, now is the time to start planning those family vacations! Whether you are planning on going somewhere close to home or across the country, relaxing on the beach or running around the big city, there are all sorts of ways you can pinch those vacation pennies and get the most out of your travel budget. Here are a few of our top money-saving family travel tips.



Flying? Do your research.

Start by using a search engine like expedia.com, travelocity.com or kayak.com, which will let you compare fares from a host of different airlines. Before you book through one of these sites, though, check each airline’s own site—not only will they typically offer the best deals on their own sites, but they may not charge you a booking fee.



Book your airline ticket on Tuesday.

Airlines tend to post their sales on Monday—meaning that by Tuesday, the competition has figured out what the sales are and offered their own bargains. By Tuesday afternoon, all the best sales will have been posted.



Travel by air mid-week.

Wednesday is the least-traveled day of the week, making it the least expensive to fly. (Weekends are typically the most crowded and expensive.) If you can be a bit flexible with your schedule, you can save a bundle on airfare and surcharges by flying on hump day. If your week-long vacation goes from Wednesday to Wednesday, you might be able to save up to 20 percent on your airfare versus traveling Saturday to Saturday.



Pack lightly.

Just about every airline now tacks on a fee of $25+ each way, per passenger, for checked baggage. If you can fit everything you’ll need for your trip into a carry-on bag for each member of your family, you can easily save quite a few bucks. Bonus: There’s no way your luggage will get lost if it’s in the overhead bin above your seat!

Don’t forget a seat for the little ones. If you’ll need a rental car at your destination and you have young children, consider bringing your own car seat rather than renting one. Airlines typically don’t charge to gate-check car seats, and you’ll save up to $15 a day by bringing your own.



Consider driving instead of flying.

If your schedule can handle the extra time involved (and your psyche can handle being cooped up in the car with the kids for hours at a time!), a road trip may save you a bundle—even with rising gas prices. Even reasonably priced plane tickets for a family of four may cost $1,000+—but it would take many tanks of gas to approach that cost. With your own car, you’ll also enjoy greater flexibility without incurring the cost of a rental.



Stay in a suite hotel that caters to business travelers.

Often, business-friendly hotels are looking for guests over weekends, and they’ll offer significantly lower rates to attract them. What’s more, these apartment-style suites will offer your family more room to stretch out—and maybe even a kitchenette where you can prepare snacks and light meals to save money.



A few extras.

When researching hotels, look for package deals that include a few extras: Food vouchers, tickets to museums or local attractions, spa treatments, transportation to and from the airport, parking, etc. These added amenities frequently come at reduced rates.



Go online for research.

When booking your hotel, check online rates first, then call the hotel where you’d like to stay directly (don’t use the chain’s 800-number) and ask for their lowest rates or specials. Sometimes the lowest rate is already online, but occasionally there are unpublished specials that you can only get by asking for them!



Look into off-season locales.

Many warm-weather destinations are cheaper to visit during the summer, with airfares and hotel rates slashed 30 percent or more! Another benefit to off-season travel: Fewer crowds.



Read up on your destination and find out about local free or low-cost activities.

Is there a National or State Park nearby? You can spend the day hiking, picnicking and taking in stunning scenery for little more than the cost of filling your basket with food. Remember, spending the day at the beach costs a whole lot less than spending the day at a waterpark!



Visit friends or family.

Have loved ones living in a part of the country you’d like to see? Take advantage of their hospitality, if possible. Hotel stays can be costly; crashing at your favorite cousin’s is free! Treat your hosts to a nice dinner (or two) as a thank you—and be sure to offer your own house in return should they ever come to visit.



Use benefits you already have.

Do you earn points with a credit or debit card? They might be good to cash in for airline miles, hotel points or theme park tickets. And if you are a member of your local zoo or museum, you may have reciprocal membership benefits at other places around the country—meaning you’ll enjoy free or discounted admission.

With these helpful, frugal and smart travel tips, you’ll be well on your way to having a wonderful, wonderfully affordable vacation. Now the question becomes: Where will you go next year with the money you’ve saved?