Are you “vacation deprived”? A recent survey by Expedia revealed that 53% of Americans feel this way. If you’re one of them, you may wish you could pack a bag right now and head off into the sunset. But obstacles—like time and money—stand in the way. We can’t help you manufacture more time, but we can help you on the budget front. Savvy shoppers know that there are dozens of travel hacks to save money on your next trip. Bookmark these 15 simple tips and refer to them the next time you plan to hit the road.
Airfare travel hacks
Airfare can be the single most expensive part of any trip and you know that a lot of the sage advice from experts—like “be flexible with your departure dates and times”—isn’t always easy to heed for an educator with limited vacation days. Still, there are some methods you can use to shave a few dollars off your airfare.
Pick the right times to fly: More often than not, you have to travel on certain days because those are the days you have off. But try to book early morning or late-night flights. Those options tend to have the lowest price tags (depending on the route). Use Google’s Matrix Airfare Search to find the cheapest flights—both nonstops and connections—on the dates you can travel. And, if you do have some flexibility over your travel dates, it can be cheaper to fly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Rethink your route: Oftentimes, connecting flights are the most inexpensive option—but don’t forget to factor in the vacation time lost as you wait around the airport for your connection. Likewise, if there are multiple airports within driving distance of your home, be sure to check flights departing from each to determine which offers the lowest-cost options to your destination.
Book at the best times: Airlines are known to launch sales or reduce prices on certain days of the week—Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in particular. Also, fares are often cheapest 4 to 6 weeks before departure for domestic travel.
Use tools to monitor prices: It’s always smart to track the price of airline tickets both before and after you buy. Tracking beforehand lets you know what a “good deal” for that route actually looks like. Tracking after you buy can help you recoup a credit if the price of your ticket actually goes down. Some airlines do offer credits in such circumstances but only when the criteria matches company policy (like if you purchased your ticket 60 or more days in advance). Use a free online service like Google Flights, FareCompare or Airfarewatchdog to set up automated fare alerts.
Avoid triggering price increases: Have you ever searched for airfare a few days in a row only to see the price creep up and up and up? Sometimes that’s because the airline is “spying” on your research and is raising the ticket price each time you search. This is called dynamic pricing. If that happens, clear your browser cookies (or, better yet, search using incognito mode in the first place) and then search your route again. You may find that the price has lowered.
Use your member discounts: Book low fares on airline tickets to destinations near and far. The NEA Travel Program accesses multiple flight deals to get you the most budget-friendly airline ticket possible.
To save on other aspects of your flight, find out how to avoid getting nickeled-and-dimed on your trip.
Hotel travel hacks
It’s possible to save a few bucks in a couple of different ways when you book your hotel:
Cash in on member discounts: Luckily, there are plenty of ways to score a pretty hefty discount on lodgings. First of all, don’t forget that your NEA membership can save you up to 60% when you use the NEA Travel Program to book your hotel stay.
Join loyalty programs: No matter where you plan to stay, ask if there is a loyalty program. Join and sign up to receive email updates. You’ll be the first to know of sales as well as special member-only discounts. Other perks—such as free Wi-Fi, breakfast and room upgrades—are also possible as you make your way up the loyalty program’s tiers.
Ask for a discount: In this day and age when almost everything is done online or from your smartphone, it may not occur to you to call and ask your hotel for a discount. But savvy shoppers do just that! Call the hotel directly, not the chain’s (800) number. Talk with the reservations manager and ask about any “manager’s specials” or other discounts, or ask him or her to beat the price of a competitor. The hotel property itself has more leeway to offer discounts than the corporate headquarters.
Use a travel agent: Savvy travelers actually call on travel agents who can score value-added perks (like free breakfast or parking), pre-negotiated discount rates and upgraded rooms. Find a travel agent who’s a member of a reputable consortium such as Virtuoso, Ensemble Travel and Signature Travel Network.
Book through an online discounter or auction site: Sometimes you can net savings on your hotel by booking through an online site like Orbitz and Expedia as well as resources like BookingBuddy.com, Hotels.com or Hipmunk.com. And, if you’re looking for more upscale digs, try auction site JetSetter.com.
Car rental travel hacks
Renting a car can be tricky. Some locations offer a lot of competition across rental companies, which pushes the daily rate lower. In other destinations it’s tough to find a break on the rate. Here are some ways to score discounts:
Use your NEA member savings: As an NEA member, you’re eligible for discount rentals from Alamo, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz and more.
Sign up for loyalty programs: Members of the car rental company’s loyalty program are sometimes entitled to skip lines at the rental desk or net free upgrades.
Use discount codes and coupons: If you make your car rental reservation directly at the company’s website, you’ll notice fields in the process for coupon codes. You can look for one at sites like RetailMeNot or UltimateCoupons.com.
Plan ahead for vacation savings
It’s important to take a break and get away, and with some advance vacation planning, you can minimize the debt you’ll have to pay off when you get back home. Booking travel months ahead of your departure can give you time to make incremental payments on plane tickets, hotel rooms and more.
Look into all-inclusive vacations and affordable cruises, where a lot of your expenses can be predetermined and prepaid. Theme parks are another good place to have fun on a planned budget, while multigenerational trips can help you split the expenses.