Vacation Budget Hacks — A Timeline to Booking the Best Travel Deals

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child at the airport with carry on luggage

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.

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 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.

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 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.

woman pushing carry-on luggage at airport

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 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.

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

According to Joe Brancatelli, publisher of the travel website, 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 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.

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

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.

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 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!

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:

Want to save on entertainment? Bookmark this page!

Join The Discussion

Comments 12

  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!

    • 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!

  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.

  3. Daniela Henderson

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

  4. Nancy

    During what time(month) of the year does the Midwest get $300 tickets to Hawaii? I know these are rare, but not unheard of. Ive been watching and checking, but havent found anything below $507.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

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