For anyone who’s ever gone on a family vacation and returned feeling frustrated, broke and exhausted, there’s hope. Try these simple tips to plan a vacation that respects your checkbook and refreshes your family.
When it comes to planning, the sooner the better
• Have a family meeting to discuss your trip budget and each person’s desires and expectations. Estimate the cost of different ideas, then prioritize your list.
• Sign up for e-mail notices from airlines and travel websites so you’ll be among the first to know about fare sales. But act quickly. Although the cost of a ticket can fall overnight, discounted fares may sell out by noon the next day.
• Be as flexible as possible when planning. Let airfares dictate the day and time you travel. Early morning or late evening flights often have lower rates. Generally, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are the cheapest days to fly, and a Saturday-night stay-over is necessary to receive the lowest fare. Routes that connect through a hub city can cost less than nonstop flights.
• Avoid vacationing during holidays. Most airlines have holiday “blackout days” when fares are hiked and frequent flyer miles cannot be used. However, flying on the day of the actual holiday (Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day or July 4th) usually means low fares and plenty of seats.
Extend your travel buying power
• Look into vacation packages. You often can save money by booking airline tickets along with a hotel room or condominium, or rental car. Make sure that the accommodations offered have the desired number of beds, baths, laundry and kitchen facilities, kid-friendly activities, babysitting services and sports amenities. (Be wary of travel packages that require a tour of resort property.)
• Sign up for the frequent flyer programs of airlines you travel, and apply for credit cards associated with airlines you use often. Use one card when you shop for food, gasoline and other ongoing needs so your points will accumulate faster toward rewards.
Swerve around car-rental cash traps
• Watch for car-rental coupons in travel magazines and the travel section of your Sunday newspaper. Mention your coupon when calling to reserve a car. Ask about daily and weekly rates and mileage limitations. Compare the price you’re quoted over the phone with online rates before making your decision.
• See if your auto insurance policy covers car rentals. Some credit cards offer automatic coverage when you charge a car rental. Buying the rental company’s insurance is expensive and often unnecessary.
• Book the smallest car that suits your needs. Upgrading to a larger car at the rental counter often costs far less than what you would have paid if you reserved that size.
• Don’t wait until you’re running on fumes to buy gasoline. Allow time to look for competitive prices.