Vacation Budget Hacks — A Timeline to Booking the Best Travel Deals
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Read this before making your travel plans!
The best travel 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!
Here are our best tips to get the best travel deals:
Start by signing up for price alerts on travel deals 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 three to four months ahead of your anticipated departure date (or four to five 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 travel 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 cruise deal!
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 Thursdays, especially during the winter, according to this FareCompare.com article. 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 will net some noticeable savings.
Another tip 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.
According to Joe Brancatelli, publisher of the travel website JoeSentMe.com, aim to book your trip for domestic flights around seven weeks in advance. On average, passengers will pay the lowest price (nearly 10% below the average fare!) if they buy 50 days before their flight, according to data from the Airlines Reporting Corporation.
When you’re ready to book your travel, a study by FareCompare.com says the best time to buy airline tickets and shop for domestic travel is on Tuesdays at 3 PM EST.
However, some travel experts argue that the best deals vary frequently, so there’s not one specific day or time of the week to buy. The trick when booking flights is to be sure and browse the flight deals often and early enough to make sure you don’t miss a deal.
Keep in mind exceptions to the rule, like holidays.
While Wednesdays are usually an inexpensive day to fly, there’s definitely an exception that’ll cost you — the day before Thanksgiving. The same is also true for the return flight since most people book on the following Sunday. 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 you can.
Another busy travel week falls around Christmas and the New Year, which means high demand and high prices. However, according to AAA, travelers booking between 28 to 60 days before Thanksgiving week — that’s between September 25 and October 27 — can get a good price ($491 on average).
Here are the best time to book holiday travel in 2020, courtesy of Hopper:
- Easter: 6+ weeks ahead
- Memorial Day: 4+ weeks ahead
- Fourth of July: 4+ weeks ahead
- Labor Day: 5+ weeks ahead
- Thanksgiving: 4+ weeks ahead
- Christmas: 8+ weeks ahead
- New Year’s Eve: 8+ weeks ahead
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 re-book your reservation until you reach the lowest possible price prior to your trip.
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 that 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 trips, such as transportation services and some attractions!
Hip Tip: Check out our tips on how to find cheap car rentals, discounts, & deals!
Now, prepare for fun!
Read up on these clever and frugal ways to save more on your vacation: