Worried you can't afford a vacation? Relax! With these expert tips, you can get away without spending a fortune.
The Expert: Bob Jones
"The Chief Frugalist" (discounthotels.com)
Top 5 Tips
- Fly, eat, and play -- free! Lots of airlines and hotels offer freebies for kids, so look into these promotions when you start planning your trip. Some hotels, like Holiday Inn, even provide complimentary meals for kids 12 and under. Taking advantage of this offer can save a family of four more than $250 on a one-week vacation. Round out these discounts by booking your trip to destinations that have free activities -- like Washington, D.C., with its many museums.
- Choose your hotel wisely. If you're going to spend most of your vacation outside your hotel room -- visiting theme parks, for example -- don't waste money on a swanky resort with lots of amenities. Most business hotels are less expensive in the summer, especially on the weekends.
- Use discount cards. Virtually every hotel participates in the "AAA Show Your Card & Save" program, with rooms discounted up to 10 percent. Many theme parks offer similar AAA deals on tickets and souvenirs. And local tourist bureaus have free coupon books to area attractions and restaurants.
- Pay one fee. All-inclusive resorts are great for families on a budget because you pay for the trip up front. The price tag includes accommodations, food, activities, and children's programs. Just make sure you ask about extra fees -- some packages have drink limits or charge for special outings.
- Ask for a better deal. Don't be afraid to call hotels directly -- they can sometimes lower rates when business is slow. Even if you already have reservations, always ask at the hotel counter and car-rental desk for a better deal. Walk up and say, "I have a reservation for this amount: Do you have a lower rate available?" They may say no, of course, but you could walk away with a last-minute deal.
The Expert: Kathryn Sudeikis
President of the American Society of Travel Agents (travelsense.org)
Top 5 Tips
- Plan early. The minute you get your child's school schedule, start thinking about next year's vacation. Try to avoid the July 4th weekend or Christmas travel; opt instead for off-peak trips on smaller holidays (teachers' staff-development days, for instance). When it comes to booking flights for a family, a good guideline is the sooner, the better.
- Avoid busy travel days. Flying Monday through Thursday is almost always cheaper than flying on the weekends. If you can, book your trip with a Wednesday departure and Wednesday return to get the absolute lowest fares.
- Rent what you need. If you're only planning to drive a short distance or if you have a small family, don't let the rental company talk you into upgrading from a compact car. But if you'll be spending a lot of time on the road, do go for the minivan -- there isn't a significant rate jump. Join a free membership program, such as the Hertz #1 Club, to earn free rentals and other discounts. Don't forget to bring your child's car seat or you'll have to pay around $10 a day to rent one.
- Pick a different destination. Why vacation at a touristy hot spot when you can have practically the same experience at a fraction of the cost? A family trip to the super-popular Bahamas, for instance, will cost more than one to another beautiful Caribbean island, such as the Dominican Republic.
The Expert: Eileen Ogintz
Travel Columnist (takingthekids.com)
Top 5 Tips
- Reserve during the off-season. You can save a bundle if you book rooms off-peak. Vermont, Colorado, and other hot ski areas have great activities in the summer, and you won't dish out the major bucks for a full-service mountain resort. If you want to soak up the sun, hotels in the Caribbean are much cheaper in the summer than in the winter.
- Pack a picnic. Take along lunches, healthy snacks, and bottled water, especially when you're traveling by car. You'll save money, and the food is more nutritious than what you'll find on the road. At the hotel, ask the staff to empty your mini-fridge of the expensive items, then store your leftover food.
- Don't go crazy with souvenirs. Stop your kids from overdoing it by setting a limit on spending before you go. And stick to postcards for your family and friends back home.
- Try ethnic cuisine. You're on vacation, so why not try something new? Ethnic restaurants, such as Indian or Thai, are usually less expensive than the popular tourist traps. Ask at your hotel's front desk for some good recommendations.
- Trade houses for the trip. Check out homelink.org, a Web site that helps you swap houses with families in different cities and countries. Or take out an ad in your college alumni newsletter. House swaps are a great way to save money -- and you may not have to pack playpens, strollers, cribs, and other essentials.
The Expert: Emily Kaufman
"The Travel Mom" (orbitz.com)
Top 5 Tips
- Be flexible. Busy airports usually have higher fares, so look into flying out of smaller ones in nearby cities.
- Split the cost. Go on vacation with another family or your relatives. This way you can split the cost of lodging, food, activities, and childcare. Many airlines and hotels also offer deals for group travel.
- Look for packages. You can often find big savings on discount travel Web sites if you book hotel, airfare, and car rentals together. Many resorts also offer package deals that include tickets to nearby attractions. The Best Western Gateway Inn in San Jose, California, offers two all-day tickets to Paramount's Great America Theme Park, for example.
- Consider accommodation alternatives. Renting a condo for a week is a smart choice for a family -- the rates are usually less than those at a fancy hotel. You also have more space and privacy as well as a kitchen. Preparing meals in-house, rather than eating out, will save your family a bundle. And a washer and dryer in the condo means you don't have to pack as much. Find one at cyberrentals.com.
- Use loyalty points. Pick one hotel chain, and stay there for both leisure and business. By doing this, you can collect points faster. For example, members of InterContinental Hotels' Priority Club can earn free stays or other deals.
Copyright ? 2006. Reprinted with permission from the July 2006 issue of Parents magazine.