Vacation on a Budget & Save Big with this Booking Timeline
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If you want to score the best travel deals, read on for the best tips for a vacation on a budget!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
Hip Tip: Check out our tips on how to find cheap car rentals, discounts, & deals!
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!