Your dream vacation doesn’t have to send you to the poorhouse. Here are five suggestions on ways to stretch a budget for your next ultimate getaway:
It’s not a cardinal rule anymore, but planning and purchasing in advance remains the safest way to get low prices on airlines, cruises and lodging.Because of better inventory control, airlines now occasionally release unsold seats at low prices as the departure date nears. But that’s the exception; as frequent travelers know, most flights now depart at or near capacity — and those who pay the least usually satisfy 14-day or seven-day advance-purchase requirements (earlier for international travel). Airlines also offer periodic sales that require almost immediate purchases even if travel is permitted weeks or months into the future.
Cruise lines, too, offer significant discounts for “early-bird” bookings — up to six months in advance. And if you covet that $49 supersaver weekend rate at a chain hotel, don’t dare wait until the day before departure.
Whatever your destination, recognize — and if you’re on a tight budget, avoid — its busiest season. Airline tickets, car rentals, train tickets and lodging likely will be priced accordingly. Europe is a bargain in winter; the best Caribbean deals occur in summer. Expect to pay double the regular rates in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, but visit in August and you’ll find significant discounts.
Utilize a Travel Agent
The Internet is a wonderful tool for information, but a local travel agent is still the bargain-hunter’s best friend in coordinating a vacation to fit individual objectives and budgets. Keep in mind that a good travel agent has access to the Internet, too, and knows how to use it for your benefit. Unlike many websites, whose main purpose is to promote and sell a specific service, the travel agent’s main responsibility is you. The value of comparison-shopping on your behalf can’t be overstated.
Most travel agents now charge a small fee for their services, but compare this to the time and money you’d spend putting a trip together. Just make certain the travel agent understands what you want from a vacation and how much you can spend. If one agent doesn’t appreciate your budgetary requirements, find another who does.
Vegas for less! Maximum cruise value! Guaranteed lowest price! Newspaper travel sections and magazines are filled with advertisements touting the newest “bargain of a lifetime.” It’s always important to read the fine print and to learn some background about the company making an offer, but a savvy and cautious traveler can find a real deal. By evaluating a variety of promotions and comparing prices, you can get a good idea of which destinations or cruises are offering the best values. Ask firm questions to find out exactly what you are getting for your investment. And remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
These aren’t suited to every traveler, but package tours offer the security of knowing that all (or most) major costs of your vacation are included in one basic price. Independent travelers can be amazed how quickly “incidental” charges – meals, tips, entrance fees, subway tickets, etc. – mount into hundreds of dollars and destroy a budget. Even with group tours, find out in advance what the package includes. A $700 tour without lunches and dinners hardly represents a savings over an $800 tour that includes all meals. Also take time to check on the reputation of the tour firm; most (but not all) tour operators belong to either the National Tour Association or U.S. Tour Operators Association.
Jennifer Willard is passionate about writing, family, and frugality. Since overcoming the burden of credit card debt through debt managementand strict spending, Jennifer has spent time looking for creative ways to endorse family experiences within a well-structured budget.