Summer is always one of the most expensive times to travel. But 2021 has the potential to be even busier (and costly) than usual due to pent-up demand caused by the extended COVID-19 lockdowns.
As many individuals and families are looking to make up for lost time this summer, “revenge travel” is already causing prices to spike. As of writing, prices on many hotels and flights are still below pre-pandemic levels. But that’s not the case for every destination and costs are likely to continue to rise as we move further into summer.
What all this means is that it’s not going to be as easy to take a cheap trip this summer as it may have been in the winter or spring. That’s the bad news. But the good news is that there are still many ways to save on summer travel. So if you’re looking to plan a “fun in the sun” vacation on a budget, here are 11 of our favorite tips.
1. Compare Rates on Third-Party Travel Sites
Travel websites are marketplaces that can compare rates from hundreds of airlines, hotels, or car rental agencies at once. Using these sites can save you a lot of time and money when compared to visiting each company’s website separately. Some popular travel sites include:
- Google Flights
While these sites can be a great place to start rate-shopping, note that not every travel brand allows third parties to show their prices. Southwest Airlines, for example, has been a long-standing holdout. So after visiting third-party aggregators, you may still want to check out a few individual sites to ensure that you don’t miss any hot deals.
2. Set Price Alerts Using Flexible Dates
Nearly all of the sites above also make it easy to set travel alerts. These are convenient because they allow you to sit back, relax and wait to be notified when the price for your trip drops rather than having to manually check rates each day.
You can set alerts for specific dates if you’d like. But know that if you’re able to be flexible with your plans, you’ll have a better chance of scoring a big discount.
If you work a job that allows you to plan a last-minute trip, saying that you’re available “anytime” or for any “upcoming weekends” could be best. Or, for a little more predictability, you could customize your alert to only notify you about price drops for dates that fall within a specific month.
3. Redeem Credit Card Rewards Towards Travel
This tip has long been one of my family’s favorite travel hacks. If you’ve been racking up credit card rewards points with your daily-use card, you may be able to redeem those points for free nights and/or flights.
Some credit card issuers allow points to be transferred to a variety of travel partners. Others have their own travel portal where cardholders can book trips with points. And some cards offer both! Check to see what redemption options your card offers.
If you’re looking to take a late summer (or early fall) vacation, you may still have time to apply for a rewards credit card and earn a hefty sign-up bonus before you book your trip. Keep in mind, though, that the most generous cards do usually require excellent credit. You can check your FICO® Scores and reports at myFICO.
4. Split a Home Rental With Family or Friends
While renting an entire home using an app like Airbnb or HomeAway can be convenient, it’s unlikely to be the most affordable choice for a single-family. But if you’re planning a group vacation, it certainly could be!
For example, let’s say that you’re visiting a city where hotels cost around $100 per night and a 3-bedroom home rental averages $210 per night. If you’re able to split the home with two other families, your per-family cost drops to just $70.
So you’d save $30 per night by choosing the home rental. You could save even more by choosing a house that has a fully-stocked kitchen since you’d have the option to cook a few meals. Plus, a home rental may offer other intangible benefits like a living room where everyone can enjoy movie nights and a backyard for the kiddos to run around.
5. Book Middle-of-The-Week Flights
Often, travelers plan their trips around taking off a traditional Monday-Friday workweek. For this reason, weekend flights tend to be the most popular. But simple supply and demand dynamics mean that those flights are also likely to be more expensive.
Could you start your trip in the middle of the week instead? If so, you’re more likely to find the lowest fares. Historically, Tuesdays and Wednesdays have proven to be the cheapest days to fly.
If you do have to outfly on weekends, try to opt for Saturday rather than Friday evening or Sunday. Flying back on Sunday does give you an extra day to maximize your trip. But this advantage also tends to inflate Sunday fare prices.
6. Fill Your Itinerary With Free Sights and Activities
As a Florida native, I know first-hand how fun theme park vacations can be. But it’s also harder to plan a budget-conscious trip when you’re visiting an amusement park or other ticketed venue each day.
But there are plenty of fun things that you can do for free during your summer getaway. In our family’s case, we enjoy hiking so we love to visit destinations that have plenty of nearby state or national parks.
Also, keep in mind that many national monuments and museums don’t charge for admission. That makes it easier to keep costs low when visiting cities that are packed with historical landmarks like Washington D.C., Philadelphia, New York, or Boston.
7. Take a Road Trip
You may not need to book a flight to visit somewhere new and exciting. There may be plenty of places within driving distance of your home that have a lot to offer.
You’ll not only avoid flight costs by road-tripping, but you also won’t have to worry about booking a rental car or paying for daily rideshares once you reach your destination.
You will have to pay for gas during your trip. But after accounting for fuel costs, you may still be able to save hundreds of dollars by driving yourself to your summer vacation spot. And the larger your family, the higher your potential savings.
8. Visit Cities That Offer Sightseeing Bundles
There are currently 13 cities in the United States along with Toronto, Canada that offer CityPASS tickets. These passes bundle together several of the city’s most popular sights at a reduced overall price.
You may be able to save upwards of 50% by purchasing a CityPASS vs. buying tickets to each attraction separately. Our family has bought a CityPASS in three different cities so far and we’ve yet to be disappointed!
9. Look For Kids Stay (or Fly) Free Options
If you’ll be traveling with children this summer, know that certain travel brands offer special freebies that can save parents money. At Holiday Inn, for example, up to two children can be added to their parent’s room at no extra charge. And up to four children per family can eat free at hotel dine-in restaurants for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
With Frontier Airlines, one child under 15 can fly free per parent if at least one of the adults is a Discount Den travel club member. For a family of four, this could cut their flight cost in half. However, two blackout dates do apply for the remainder of summer 2021: June 26-July 13th and September 2nd-6th.
10. Stay Away From Major Holidays
All travel-related prices tend to soar on big holidays. So simply steering clear of these dates (and the weekends before and after) could be one of the easiest ways to save on summer travel.
Since Memorial Day has already passed, there are really only two federal holidays left this summer to avoid: Independence Day and Labor Day.
11. Investigate Your In-City Transportation Options
If you’ll be visiting a large metro area on your trip, parking and transportation can be a lot trickier, so you’ll want to think through your strategy. In some cities, leaving your vehicle in a low-cost parking garage and using public transportation could save you time (and hassle) vs. driving everywhere and paying for parking at each stop.
If you’ll be staying in one area for at least 7 days, you may also want to see if the city offers discounts on week-long passes for public parking or transportation. Lastly, if you’ll be flying to your destination, you’ll want to think about whether renting a car or using rideshares and taxis during your stay would be most affordable.
If you’re just planning to hit the beach each day during your summer getaway, booking a rental car may not be worth the money. But if you’ll be doing a lot of driving to spread apart sights, renting a car might actually be far less expensive.
The Bottom Line
This list of 11 ways to save on summer travel is far from exhaustive. If you’re actively looking, you’re likely to find dozens of more ways to cut costs.
So be intentional and plan well. Because the only thing better than a relaxing summer getaway is a relaxing summer getaway that doesn’t break the bank!