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Vacation Budget Hacks — A Timeline to Booking the Best Deals

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Vacation budget hacks to book the best deals — International Airport Pictured

So you want to make travel plans…

The best deals present themselves when you follow a strategic timeline. These vacation budget hacks will clue you into when to book the best deals – regardless of whether you’re flying over the river and through the woods to grandma’s house or across the ocean on a cruise!


Start by signing up for price alerts 2-3 months before your trip.

Vacation budget hacks to book the best deals — woman on google flights searching for flight deals

Before you start getting into the nitty-gritty of planning, start by getting an idea of the airfare cost two to three months ahead of your anticipated departure date (or three to four months if you’re traveling internationally). Websites like The Flight Deal and Secret Flying or apps like Hopper or Hitlist are all great resources for good flight deals for a variety of destinations. If you have a specific itinerary in mind, create a custom alert on Kayak or Google Flights so you can receive notifications on your desired routes and dates.

Vacation budget hacks to book the best deals — kayak website open on ipad with weekly planner
It’s also good to look into cruises three months in advance. Most cruise lines release their itineraries 18 months in advance to get as many vacationers booked ASAP, but once they hit 90 days before launch, they start slashing prices to fill up the remaining cabins. The room options will be slim and you’ll have to be flexible with your plans, but it’s a great way to score a last minute deal on a cruise!

An additional option is to apply for a travel credit card that rewards cardholders with signup bonus points when a spending threshold is met within the first one to three months. This option may not be ideal for everyone, but this guide from The Points Guy has a comprehensive breakdown of travel credit card options should you go this route.


Next, plan your flight times for early weekday mornings.

Vacation budget hacks to book the best deals — Collin looking at her coffee mug dreamily

The best days to fly are on weekdays, specifically Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Another less expensive day is Saturday according to FareCompare.com. Even if you’re not able to abide by this rule for your travel days, booking on a less expensive day for even one leg of your trip nets some noticeable savings.

Another tip from Rick Seaney, chief executive of FareCompare.com, is to take the first flight of the morning. Yup, you’ll probably have to get up around 4 AM, but the savings are worth it! The next-cheapest flight times are during or after lunch or at the dinner hour since most flyers don’t want to travel at inconvenient or uncomfortable times.

Hip Tip: Make your early morning flight less stressful. Find out why we love TSA PreCheck and which credit cards waive your application fee!


Then, plan your booking date.

Vacation budget hacks to book the best deals — schedule in person interview with TSA check

Aim to book your trip for domestic flights around two to three weeks in advance, and about two months in advance for international travel for the best deals according to Skyscanner. They also suggest that booking your trip at 5 AM will yield the highest potential for flight savings, while booking at night, specifically between 7 – 10 PM, usually returns the worst results.


Keep in mind exceptions to the rule, like holidays.

Vacation budget hacks to book the best deals — a full airline flight

While Wednesdays are usually a more inexpensive day to fly, there’s definitely an exception that’ll cost you — the day before Thanksgiving, which this year falls on November 21st. The same is also true for the return flight since most people book on the following Sunday (or November 25th for 2018). Your best bet is to fly on Thanksgiving morning or early in the week, returning home Tuesday or Wednesday the following week. This obviously may not work for everyone’s holiday plan, but it will definitely save you some cash if that takes priority.

Another busy travel week falls around Christmas and the New Year, which means high demand and high prices. According to Kayak, booking your Christmas travel in September can reward you with some savings. If that’s too early, they recommend booking before November 25th, as prices tend to climb steadily after Thanksgiving.


Remember any other accommodations you’ll need.

Vacation budget hacks to book the best deals — someone driving a vehicle

Need to rent a car to get around during your trip? Start looking into car rentals as soon as you know the days you’ll need the rental. If you can, look for a service allowing for free, no conditions cancellation. After you book your initial reservation, revisit the site each morning to see if rental prices have dropped. If you see the price dip lower, cancel and rebook your reservation until you reach the lowest possible price prior to your trip. Bryn used this method with her car rental from Costco and saved $169!

Another common reservation is for your hotel room, which – if you like to take a little risk – you may want to book one to three days prior to your stay. According to a study by Kayak, waiting until the last minute for hotel rooms can save you between $15 – $20 per night. Look into Hotel Tonight, an app which operates specifically to find last-minute hotel deals.

Oh, and remember the travel credit card option we mentioned at the beginning? Those points can typically be used on these and other reservations during your trip, such as transportation services and some attractions!


Now, prepare for fun!

Vacation budget hacks to book the best deals — trip planning around a map and laptop

Read up on these clever and frugal ways to save more on your vacation:

Written by Emily for Hip2Save. Emily lives in Buffalo, NY where she spends her time drinking lots of coffee, scouring the internet for deals, and tackling DIY projects. She’s a big believer in self-care and living the fullest life possible, all while saving money of course.

Join The Discussion

Comments 13

  1. Vicki

    I am new to Sam’s Club. Are there any travel deals through there to know about ? Probably traveling for the holidays.

    • Lisa

      Vicki, I thought Sam’s Club got out of the Travel business a year or two ago. So not sure on that option anymore. Good luck. We’ve had luck with AAA (but not always). Definitely do your research.

  2. Kahila

    When would be the best time to book for a trip to hawaii… we are planning a family vacay/vow renewal/honeymoon in Dec 2019. Any ideas will be helping as this is our very 1st family vacation. And if you have any experiences on any of the islands, like which one would be best for families. TIA

    • Urvi

      Maui is the most popular and great for families. Just enough to do to be interesting and have tons of beach/pool time. Ka’napali is the best area to book hotels. Do the whale watching from there as it got more expensive from Big Island.
      We did the book x get 1 night free deal at the Westin. Also used my Sapphire points to book.
      Watched dolphins and a whale from my balcony one evening.

      Ha’wai or big island for Volcano natl park. (The island of Hawaii in the state of Hawaii.)

      Kauai is more natural and untouched. Great for hikes and outdoor activities. Not a lot of luxury.

      Lanai is all luxury. Like Ritz level luxury. Four Seasons prices luxury.

      • Wendy

        I would also say Maui. I booked the Westin Nanea for a week. IF you have any SPG points to use, if you book 4 nights with points you get the 5th free. They are all condo’s and are getting great reviews. I wanted something bigger than a hotel room.

      • wendy

        Hi, Just curious which Westin you stayed at? I also did the buy 4 get one night free. Very excited. If you have any recommendations lmk. thx.

    • Tarri

      I agree, Maui is great island for family vacations, had more activities for children.

    • Dana

      There are a lot of deals happening right now for Hawaii because Southwest has just started flying there. Check out website beatofhawaii.com

  3. carol

    I just booked a cruise on Norwegian through Priceline – same price as if I would have booked it through the NCL site, but was able to get $250 in onboard spend, plus they also offered an additional “free at sea” promotion. So, we were able to get three choices (free upgraded dining, free beverage package, $50 off shore excursions in each port). Priceline lady said check with them because they do have offers that other places may not have – like the NCL extra free promotion, onboard spend, prepaid gratuities, free guaranteed upgrades, etc. We leave in a few days so we’ll see if there’s any difference between when we booked with NCL directly. And even waiting so long to book we got a decent balcony, had no issues reserving the upgraded dining, and I booked our top choice shore excursions a couple days ago with no issues.

  4. sturgissaver

    If you’re nervous to wait til 3 days prior to book your hotel room, do it like the car rental. Book one with free cancellation and check periodically to see if the price has dropped, or if other hotels are cheaper. We just did that with a trip to Las Vegas and saved about $200 for 4 nights.

  5. MaryWhitePhotos

    We just booked a room at a Hilton in NYC. Rather than booking online I called the hotel directly to make the reservations and am thrilled with the results. I saved about $40 per night compared to Hotels.com cheapest room, AND she upgraded our room to a king, put us on a higher floor with a view (it is NYC), iand we are getting double Hilton points. It is worth the call.

  6. Rachel

    I have been using Costco for car rentals for years! You can also use coupons from their website. For instance, I’m headed to Portland (picking up at the airport) and leaving at Seattle (airport) and my car is now $282 for a week and a half INCLUDING a free upgrade! When I first booked about a month or two ago, it was $490! Costco also always has unlimited miles and includes an additional driver. It is THE BEST.

    • Brenda

      Also, car rental prices constantly change. Book a refundable price you are comfortable with, then keep checking back. When we picked up a rental car, the worker there didn’t even know that.

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