Vacation on a Budget & Save Big with this Booking Timeline

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More Travel

If you want to score the best travel deals, read on for the best tips for a vacation on a budget!

gate b 21 sign in airport

Ready for take-off?

Sure, there’s an element of luck when scoring the best travel deals. But you can still vacation on a budget just by being “hip” to all the latest hacks and know-how. This travel timeline will have you snagging enviable deals in no time and leave your friends thinking, “how are these affording so many trips each year?!”


Here are some helpful travel deals and tips:


To start, sign up for price alerts on travel deals 1-4 months before your trip.

coffee mug and flower vase beside laptop with packing list to score travel deals

Airlines have frequently been accused of hiking rates based on previous search history. However, according to Scott’s Cheap Flights, that’s really not the case. Instead of using Incognito mode when researching travel deals, start checking out the flights early. Keep checking often until you hit the sweet spot.

You’re looking at a timeline of about 1-4 months ahead of time for domestic flights and 4-5 months for international flights.

Hip Tip: Websites like The Flight Deal and Secret Flying along with apps like Hopper and Hitlist are your new BFFs when it comes to travel planning on a budget. You can also set custom itinerary alerts on Kayak and Google Flights if you have something specific in mind.


For cruise travel deals, it helps to have a little flexibility.

carnival cruise w/ people on deck

Most cruise lines start releasing their itineraries 18 months in advance and try to get those cabins filled ASAP. Once they hit 90 days before launch, they start slashing prices to fill up the remaining rooms. The options will be slim, and you’ll have to be flexible with your plans. However, it’s a great way to score a last-minute cruise deal!

Hip Tip: If you’re a frequent traveler, you may be able to benefit from a travel credit card. This guide from The Points Guy has some awesome tips if you’re thinking of going that route for your budget vacation.

Note: The majority of cruise ships are requiring passengers to be fully vaccinated. Be sure to check with your cruise line’s website to find their vaccination policy.


Next, wake up early on weekdays to net the biggest flight savings.

luggage bag on airplane seat

According to Fare Compare, your best bet is flying on Tuesdays & Wednesdays. If those don’t work, Thursday is your next best option. And even if you can’t swing that schedule your entire trip, booking even one flight on these thriftier days is worth the savings!

Also, flying at a time when most people don’t want to–like super early in the morning or after lunch & dinner–may score you even bigger travel deals! Luckily, there is a way to make your early morning flight less stressful. Find out why we love TSA PreCheck!

Hip Tip: Keep in mind that the CDC is not requiring folks who have received the Covid-19 vaccine to quarantine for domestic travel, but international flights may be a different story. Double-check the rules in your destination country to stay up to date with Covid-19 regulations & make sure you don’t have a hard time returning to the US.


Then, plan your booking date.

back of woman with backpack in airport on vacation on a budget

According to US News, you should aim to book your trip for domestic flights around seven weeks in advance. On average, passengers will pay nearly 10% below average fare if they buy tickets 50 days before their flight, according to data from the Airlines Reporting Corporation.

A study by Fare Compare says the best time to buy airline tickets and shop for domestic travel deals is on Tuesdays at 3 PM EST. While that may be the case most of the time, again, your best bet is to just check those prices early + often.


Keep in mind exceptions to the rule, like holidays.

airport flight list

Of course, some of these rules go out the window when holidays are involved. For example, while Wednesdays are normally cheap flight days, the day before Thanksgiving is a no-go if you’re looking to save money.

Another busy travel week falls around Christmas and New Year, which means high demand and high prices. However, according to ThriftyTraveler.com, one of the best things you can do to score travel deals is to start searching months ahead of time & set a Google Flights price alert. You might get lucky if you’re able to book a flight in September or earlier.

Hip Tip: Check out the cheapest flight days on FareCompare.com for the full breakdown of when to expect the lowest fares and highest price hikes in 2022!


Get travel insurance for riskier flights!

airplane wing over snowy mountains vacation on a budget

When traveling in seasons with more unpredictable weather, it may be best to spend a little extra on travel insurance just in case.

Each airline will have a different refund policy, and some of them are way better than others. And if you scored a pricey or hard-to-get ticket, I can say from personal experience that travel insurance comes in handy and has quite frankly saved my vacation on more than one occasion. 🙌


Consider Costco for crazy travel deals.

holding Costco card outside warehouse for travel deals
You may think of Costco as a place to score great deals on all kinds of products (and you’re not wrong!), but did you know that Costco also has some incredible deals on travel without the hassle of having to book everything separately?

While some folks love booking everything themselves (read the next tip for info on that 😉), it can get a little overwhelming if you’re traveling with a large group. That’s where CostcoTravel.com comes in with travel packages including flights, hotels, transportation, activities, and more.

My Hip teammate, Bryn, uses Costco travel services and loves them! Here’s what she has to say about her experience:

“I have used Costco Travel twice in the last year, and I’m obsessed with it! First, my hubby and I traveled to Maui in early 2021 and got an AMAZING deal to stay at the Ritz Carlton! We would normally never splurge on a hotel like this. However, the Costco package ended up costing us the SAME amount that we would pay if we stayed in a standard Maui hotel. Plus, the Costco package came with a rental car, daily $100 resort credit, daily breakfast for two, waived mandatory daily resort fee, AND complimentary daily valet parking. It was awesome!!

Then, in March 2021, we booked a Costco Package to go to Scottsdale, Arizona! This package included a car rental, a daily breakfast for two, and the waived mandatory daily resort fee. This all added up to huge savings for our family.

I cannot say enough good things about my experiences!” – Bryn

rocks behind beach in hawaii

Don’t have a Costco membership…yet? Now’s the perfect time to get one!

Get yourself signed up for a Costco membership so you can start taking advantage of all of the store perks, along with the travel savings!

Hip Tip: Even better, Executive Members can score an annual 2% reward on Costco Travel purchases. Not to mention the $$$ you’ll be saving since you can still scoop up the deals at Costco while traveling.


If you’re not going the all-inclusive route, remember any other accommodations you’ll need.

hand holding fruit bowl in coconut with trees in background

Need to rent a car to get around during your trip? Start looking into car rentals ASAP. 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.

If you don’t mind taking the risk, you may want to book hotel rooms one to three days prior to your stay. According to ThriftyNomads.com, waiting until the last minute for hotel rooms can save you big time. Another good last-minute booking resource is Hotel Tonight, an app that operates specifically to find last-minute hotel deals.

However, you can also book hotels with free cancellation policies. This will allow you to book a hotel room for the cheapest possible rate way ahead of time. You can then cancel it for free if you find a better deal. It’s a safer bet than relying on last-minute room availability.

Hip Tip: Prefer Airbnb? You can sometimes score HUGE savings if you book reservations for at least a week. The difference is sometimes so noticeable that it may be worth it to book a longer stay even if you don’t use all of the days. 


credit cards inside wallet

Oh, and remember those travel credit card points we mentioned in the section about saving on cruises? Those points can typically be used on these and other reservations during your trips. This includes transportation services and some attractions!


air bnb cabin view

Now that you’ve gotten the best travel deals, have some fun on your vacation!

Read up on these clever and frugal ways to vacation on a budget:


Love to travel? Keep tabs on all the latest travel deals here!


Brandi has an Associate's Degree and 5+ years of experience writing and creating online content for local businesses.


Join The Discussion

Comments 21

  1. wah00153

    Getting ready to book a cruise for June through Carnival, probably through Costco. My son is 9 and high functioning autistic (formerly aspergers). We were disappointed to learn that the Camp Ocean does not allow parents except for certain events, so we won’t be able to take part in that. We will be on the Carnival Pride, a smaller ship. Any suggestions for what to do the 3 days at sea (other than eat a lot)?

    • Cherrill

      Reach out to John Heald and see if he can help you.

    • Tieshia Moore

      I own a travel agency, Thrive Vacations, and would be more than happy to help you with your vacation and answer these questions and more. There are a number of cruise lines offering special sailings for littles with autism (and some stragglers). My services are complimentary to individuals and groups. Feel free to message me if I can help you out at booking@thrivevacations.com!

    • Chantel

      Since you haven’t booked yet, check into Disney Cruise Line if you can afford it. Adults aren’t typically allowed in the kid’s clubs to hang out but they have time everyday that is open to the whole family. Disney is also great about accommodating people with special needs. I hope you have fun!

    • Becca

      Have you ever heard of Autism on the Seas? They are a wonderful organization that staffs certain cruises – they have a list of ones they staff. The people that work for Autism on the Seas have degrees in related fields and go through extensive background checks. They are not paid for this, they volunteer. They actually do get their cruise fare free but do have to pay their way to and from the ship. Check them out. We are going to book one in the near future since our son is an older teen and teen club wouldn’t be appropriate for him. Our daughter is majoring in special education and as soon as she graduates she plans on applying to be a volunteer. Just wanted to share with you. It is a very minimal cost that you pay for the extra service but they provide all staffed activities, respite, etc.

  2. Mandyk

    Word of caution if you book through Costco or any other big box retailer/wholesaler. If something happens like a hurricane or illness, they will not help you. And you cannot call the company yourself and take care of things. They will tell you to call Costco. It’s a vicious circle. Costco is a book it and forget it company. I will never trust my money/vacation with them. If I i sounds to good to be true. It usually is.

    • hey401

      I totally disagree. I’ve booked a dozen of trips thru Costco travel in the past few years and have nothing but great experience with Costco travel customer service. They have gone above and beyond to fix issues that have come up and refunded me for a Mexico vacation with no problem when everything shut down at the beginning of the pandemic.

  3. Daniela Henderson

    How about International flights? Do you have any suggestions where to book from?

    • Rachel L Pride

      Contact a travel agent! They know how to get the best price for international flights. There’s some good tricks out there that we have.

  4. Chelsea

    If you book with a budget airline that has one flight a day from your airport, please get travel insurance. I had to learn this the hard way. Allegiant canceled my flight two hours before leaving.

  5. Stephanie

    I would recommend signing up for Scott’s Cheap Flights. They send daily (mostly) international flight deals out of major airports. We are flying round trip to London from Chicago this May for $325/ticket. Also, with looking for hotels I went through HotWire and their “hidden deals”. You can actually use a reverse photo lookup of their sample photo of the hotel to figure out where you would be booking (most of the time). I was able to use Hip2Saves post last week about Hotwire Hot Deal’s code and save an additional 8% off a 6 night stay in a Paris hotel in the 1st arrondissement. Total savings were over $500

    • Sharvido

      Whoa! Thanks so much for all that info Stephanie.

    • Jennifer Schmidt

      I second Scott’s Cheap Flights!

  6. Sue

    Hello Wah, I would see if I could find a copy of the daily activity papers for the at sea days ahead of time. Use a highlighter to mark the things of interest. This will allow you to plan out your at sea days ahead of time. I would allow my son to get involved with the planning, His involvement, will allow him to have some control over his days and look forward to the cruise. Enjoy, I hope you have a great time.

  7. Chantel

    Very true about waiting until 90 days out for a cruise. This is always what we have done and the savings have been huge. We took our first cruise on DCL in 2012. We paid $1,700 with a special military discount for a Deluxe Family room with Verandah 8 nights with one day free admission to Disney World. It was amazing. The next couple deals weren’t quite that good but then in 2017 we were able to get another verandah room on a 7 night Norwegian Fjords cruise for about $6,000. That was more than 50% off! I haven’t tried other cruise lines because the ones that are family friendly and quality are about the same cost regularly as a DCL. I wouldn’t be surprised if Norwegian for example has something similar.

  8. Lindsay

    I remember somewhere on here talking about best places to stay outside New York City and Washington DC but now I can’t find it. Would any of you be able to point me in the right direction?

    • Lisa

      Not on point to your question, Lindsay, but last time we were in D.C. this is what we did. We were a family of 4. It was cheaper for us (and more convenient) for us to drive down to D.C. and park our car in one of their lots (not sure of security at the moment), but we’d park for like 20 a day and walk around the particular area we had parked in and planned our activities for that area. Next day, we’d drive to a different area, find a parking garage and walk and see the sights in that area. D.C. is a plethora of activities and you could walk yourself to oblivion! Their metro is great too. That’s what worked for us. It was nice knowing that if we needed to, we had our car still available, particularly because some places no backpacks were allowed.

      • Lindsay

        Thank you!

    • Jen

      Also, make sure you book your museum tickets in advance. The Smithsonian is 30 days out and some others are 2 weeks.

  9. Tracey

    Booking flights on Tuesdays or Wednesdays is definitely cheaper. We were planning a flight using our airline miles to see my son in TX. To fly in on a Thursday or Friday was over 20K points for each of us one way, but Wednesday was just 8K miles for each of us. Luckily we can be flexible with out dates though. We also used one airline to fly there and a different one to fly back as the price (or mileage points in our case) and time worked better for us. It takes extra time to do all the research, but worth the savings. Definitely use the flex calendars on airline sites for a quick way to check prices/mileage points!

  10. becca

    One thing to mention…check with your credit card – many offer travel insurance if you use your credit card for payment of your plane tickets, cruise, hotel, etc. Every card offers different things so worth checking. Also – if you are planning an international trip – make sure your health insurance will cover you if you get sick while out of the country. If not – definitely purchase travel insurance. Sometimes an unexpected injury can cost thousands of dollars. I fell while on a trip to Italy – walking to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I broke my wrist and elbow. I was on a cruise and had taken travel insurance. The ship doctor did X-rays and said nothing was broken. One week later and a week of excruciating pain – I was back home and went to see an orthopedic specialist because I could not even touch something with my pointer finger, turn a door knob, etc. He took one look at the X-rays I brought from the ship and immediately pointed out I had a break in my wrist and elbow. Long story short – I had a cast for quite a while for my wrist to heal, my elbow did not heal properly and I had to have surgery as well as months of PT. The travel insurance covered everything my health insurance did not. My health insurance did cover my injury but I first had a large deductible to meet. SO the travel insurance paid all that my health insurance did not. One resource I consistently use to find a travel policy I like (it lets you compare many plans) is http://www.insuremytrip.com. Also -make sure if you book a trip – to buy the trip insurance immediately. If you wait over a certain amount of days, then the policies exclude things. If you have any pre-existing condition, make sure the policy you select covers pre-existing conditions too. I have learned a lot about travel insurance from purchasing it over the years and having a pre-existing medical condition.

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