Vacation Budget Hacks — A Timeline to Booking the Best Deals
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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.
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.
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.
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.
Then, plan your booking date.
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.
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.
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!
Read up on these clever and frugal ways to save more on your vacation:
- How to visit a new city without spending a fortune
- Packing tips for your carry-on from an ex-overpacker
- Dollar Tree must-have travel items
- What you shouldn’t do when traveling to Disney
- How to save big on your next cruise vacation
- Other general money-saving traveling tips
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.