How to Save Money on a Vacation

Female friends enjoying on vacation

Whether your travel budget is large or small, chances are you wouldn't mind saving a little money on a vacation. In addition to things like flights, hotels, car rentals and meals, you might find that unexpected expenses can easily add up during a trip. Cutting costs here and there can save you from paying a lot more than you expected. You can get a good deal on your vacation by redeeming credit card points for some of your reservations, being flexible about your destinations and dates, and even booking a package trip. Here are some of the best ways to save on your vacation.

Redeem Credit Card Rewards for Travel

Credit card points can really come in handy for saving money on travel, whether you earn airline miles, hotel points or simple cash back. The right credit card strategy for you will depend on your spending habits, travel plans and creditworthiness.

Get the Right Travel Credit Card

Although there are travel rewards credit cards for different types of consumers, some of the ones that earn the most rewards are targeted toward folks with excellent credit.

When thinking about the right travel rewards credit card to get, consider ones that earn the types of points or miles you are mostly likely to redeem and that offer bonus categories at the places where you tend to spend the most money each month.

Use Credit Card Points Strategically to Cover Travel Costs

How you use your credit card points will depend on the type of rewards you earn, and even the specific card you carry. However, there's a good chance you'll be able to put whatever types of rewards you earn to use on a trip, and save some money in the process.

Before you sign up for a card, make sure you understand its restrictions. You don't want to be stuck with a bunch of miles that can only be used with an airline carrier that doesn't fly to your intended destination and can't be transferred to another program, for instance.

Plan Your Trip Early

You can usually save money by booking your trip in advance rather than waiting until the last minute. That's because many people tend to delay making travel arrangements until the last minute and hope to find deals that never materialize.

  • Airfare Window: According to the airfare prediction app Hopper, fliers looking for deals should aim to book their tickets between 25 and 150 days before their intended travel date.
  • Prepay for Deals: Online travel agencies often extend discounts for prepaid packages. For instance, Travelzoo posts deals with savings of over 50% sometimes. Lock in lower rates by paying for the trip now—it could include just hotels, hotel and air, cruise packages and more—and then apply your voucher code to your plans when you firm up your dates. Many of these deals are fully refundable if you wind up changing your mind, so there's little risk.
  • Holiday Crush: If you're hoping to travel during a typically busy time of year, like the holidays or over spring break, try to book as far out as possible since planes and hotels tend to fill up farther in advance than at other periods.

Stay Flexible on Dates and Locations

One of the best ways to save on vacation is to be as flexible as possible about where and when you travel.

  • Off Season: Many of the most sought after destinations are seasonal. That is, most travelers flock there only at certain times of year—say when the weather is warmest in the Caribbean, or there's likely to be the most snow on the ground in a ski region. If you can plan your trip around the edges of that season, or better yet, at a completely different time of year, you can end up saving big.
  • Quiet Times: Likewise, you might find that airfares dip when you fly very early in the morning or late at night—times other travelers tend to avoid. Before committing to a ticket, price out options throughout the course of the day you're thinking of flying to see if there are any significant dollar differences.
  • Use Tracking Sites and Apps: Many websites and apps, including Skyscanner and Google Flights, track airfare prices over time, so you can check typical prices over various dates using their calendar search functions and get a sense of what is a good deal. Many of them also let you compare fares to different cities (or even different airports within the same city) very easily so you can take advantage of any deals you might score by flying to alternate destinations.
  • Sign Up for Newsletters: There are also several newsletters, such as Scott's Cheap Flights, that alert readers to hard-to-find airfare deals and provide some context into why you might want to book at a particular time.
  • Set Alerts: Some sites and apps allow users to set notifications for when airfares or hotel prices dip for a destination they're interested in visiting. For instance, Kayak lets customers set various types of price alerts. You can use them to monitor specific flights on exact dates, flexible dates to a particular destination, and survey hotel prices using various parameters including dates, destinations, and category of lodging (like luxury resorts or three-star hotels). Kayak alerts you when prices dip and you can choose whether to book at the available rates from there.

Get Creative With Lodging

Another great way to save on your vacation is to think beyond traditional hotel bookings.

  • Book a Vacation Rental: If your trip is for more than a few days, you might want to consider renting a vacation home through Airbnb or Vrbo instead of getting a regular hotel room. Because vacation rentals aren't full-service facilities (with things like room service, gyms or valet parking, for example), you might find that they are cheaper than booking a hotel. Plus, they might offer amenities like full kitchens and free Wi-Fi that can help you save even more money by not having to pay a premium for essential services like meals and internet service.
  • Search Around: Several rental booking sites now let users investigate lodging options more flexibly than ever, too. On Airbnb, for example, you can search stays over long periods of time by the number of days, a weekend, a full week, one or more months, and then look within preset windows like the next two months, or a month later in the year. That way, you can easily find some of the cheaper availabilities if your plans aren't set in stone.
  • Go All-Inclusive: All-inclusive resorts are designed to make the vacation experience easy, and comprise everything from the room rate to meals, as well as certain activities, gratuities and even kids club services depending on the property. By booking a stay at an all-inclusive location, you can avoid being nickel-and-dimed for every service or meal you'd have to pay for à la carte at a regular hotel.
  • Leverage a Best-Rate Guarantee: Most major hotel chains advertise a "best-rate guarantee" policy. They do so to entice customers to book directly through them rather than through online travel agencies. If you book an eligible rate with a hotel that has a published best-rate guarantee policy and then find a lower price elsewhere (and meet the conditions of the specific guarantee of your hotel), you might not only get the difference in price refunded to you, but you might also be extended an even bigger discount.
  • Enter Promo Codes: You might not have noticed it before, but most hotel booking sites include a box for promotional or discount codes, as well as selections for various "special rates." While these tend to be for specific coupons—say a spring or winter sale—you might also belong to an association like AAA or AARP that also secures discounts with various hotel chains. They might even be available through your employer. It never hurts to check your affiliations and see if any might entitle you to lower nightly rates.
  • Book Your Vacation as a Package: By bundling the individual components of a vacation—flights, lodgings, car rentals and even activities—into a single booking, you might end up with a cheaper price tag than trying to book all of them separately. You can often find vacation packages through online travel agencies like Expedia and Travelocity. However, many airlines—including American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue and United among others—now offer comprehensive vacation packages, too, and you might even be able to earn bonus airline miles on your purchase.

Careful Planning Can Save You Big

When you only have a limited amount of time for travel, and a budget to stick to, you want to make sure that every dollar you spend on vacation counts. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to save on your next trip. From using credit card points to tracking flight and hotel prices, and being flexible on dates and destinations to bundling all your arrangements into a single package, you can end up saving quite a lot of money in the end. So much, in fact, that you might even have enough left over to start planning your next vacation.

Although the best travel rewards credit cards for you will depend on your specific needs and plans, you can also browse our partners' travel cards for intro bonuses, rewards, travel benefits and more.