Biggest vacation expenses and how to get them for less. (Dreamstime/TNS)
Photo: Handout/TNS
Photo: Handout/TNS

Biggest vacation expenses and how to get them for less

Summer isn’t over, and already vacation spending has reached a new high. According to the Allianz Travel Insurance Vacation Confidence Index, the average family spent $1,978 on vacation costs in 2017, compared to $1,798 in 2016. 

Even if money is tight this year, you don’t have to give up on your dream of taking an incredible vacation. You just have to know how to shop smart. Whether your goal is to stroll the galleries of the Louvre or lay out on the beaches of Italy, check out these tips to save money on common travel expenses.  

VACATION EXPENSE NO. 1: AIRFARE  

If you’ve flown anywhere in the last few years, you know that airfare is one of the most expensive vacation costs. Still, there are some ways to cut down on the cost of travel, without resorting to a road trip. Here are some ways to get a good deal on your next flight.  

CHOOSE THE RIGHT DAY TO FLY  

Flight prices are highest on Fridays, Sundays and Mondays, said consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch. She advises families seeking budget travel opportunities to plan their departures for Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Saturdays.  

BOOK EARLY  

According to a 2017 CheapAir study of 921 million airfares, travelers who booked 54 days before their trips got the best deals on domestic flights. The study also found that travelers paid an average of $150 more for booking fewer than 13 days in advance and $274 for booking the day of travel.  

“Make sure you’re searching approximately six weeks before your desired departure date, or two months for international trips, to find the best rates,” said Woroch.  

AVOID COOKIES  

If you’re a regular flier, you might have had the experience of seeing a ticket price rise dramatically in a few hours. According to Regina Conway, a consumer expert with deals site Slickdeals, the sophisticated computer technology used by airlines can utilize cookies to fiddle with the fare for a flight after “learning” that you’re interested in it.  

“Try opening an incognito window, which will sometimes allow you to access the original, lower price,” said Conway.  

KEEP CHECKING PRICES AFTER YOU BOOK  

Just because you already booked your flight that doesn’t mean you can’t still save money on travel expenses, said Kendal Perez, a savings expert with Coupon Sherpa, a coupons site.  

“You can use tools like Yapta to track the price of your itinerary and receive an email notification if it drops,” she said, adding that Southwest and Alaska Airlines reimburse consumers for any changes in their itinerary prices, while other carriers reimburse only if the price drops by a certain amount, usually $100 to $150.  

BOOK TWO ONE-WAY TICKETS  

In some cases, buying two one-way tickets is less expensive than purchasing one round-trip fare.  

“In addition to scoring a better-priced airfare, you can also use rewards points to cover the cost of one leg if you don’t have enough accrued to finance a round-trip ticket,” Perez said.  

VACATION EXPENSE NO. 2: CAR RENTALS  

Renting a car for your vacation can drastically increase travel costs. According to USA Today, the average cost of a car rental ranges from $45 to $65 per day for an economy car and can reach $120 per day for a luxury vehicle. Here are some ways to get your rental car for less.  

AVOID UPSELLS  

Many credit card companies and auto insurance providers offer rental car liability coverage that’s comparable to what the rental agencies sell.  

“When a car rental agent aggressively pitched me insurance in Kauai, I looked up my rental car and credit card insurance policies and found the coverage she was offering was identical to what I already paid for through my policy,” said Perez.  

Additionally, Perez advises that vacationers avoid upgrading to a sedan or SUV. These bigger vehicles often come with similarly big gas bills.  

DON’T PREPAY FOR GAS  

Rental car agencies often fail to tell you that you won’t be credited for the gas left in your tank. So, essentially, you’re paying for a full tank, plus any fuel left in the car when you return it.  

Additionally, car rental site AutoSlash reminds renters that many credit cards offer generous cash back and rewards options on gas purchases. So, paying for your own gas can actually make you money.  

FIND COUPON CODES  

Car rental coupon codes are easy to find and can offer great savings. Perez pointed to Coupon Sherpa’s Budget promo code, which can save you $20 on your weekly car rental.  

LOOK TO YOUR WAREHOUSE CLUB  

Budget travel means not spending any more than you have to on vacation services. If you carry a membership to Costco, Sam’s Club or another warehouse store, check for car rental deals, said Woroch.  

For example, members of BJ’s Wholesale Club can get up to 25 percent off car rentals at Avis, Budget and other top companies.  

CHECK YOUR CREDIT CARD OR AIRLINE POINTS  

You might think that your airline miles can only be used for airfare, but that’s not always the case. According to Woroch, those miles can often be used for car rentals and hotels, as well.  

For example, travelers can redeem American Airlines AAdvantage miles for car rentals and hotel stays at more than 150,000 facilities around the world. Additionally, the Capital One VentureOne Rewards card lets users purchase car rental reservations with their rewards points.  

GO WITHOUT  

Going without a rental car can save you more than the price of the vehicle, said Lee Huffman, travel expert and founder of the travel and financial advice site, BaldThoughts. Along with the rental cost, you can save on gas and parking at your destinations.  

VACATION EXPENSE NO. 3: ATM AND CREDIT CARD FEES  

Take out money a few times while traveling, and your vacation budget will be in serious trouble. Here’s how to slow the fee bleed.  

WITHDRAW MORE  

If you can’t avoid a bank or ATM fee, aim to withdraw larger chunks of money. After all, the bank will charge you the same flat fee for withdrawing $20 or $200, said Woroch. 

 LEAVE THE BEATEN PATH  

If you are exchanging money, Woroch suggests avoiding money exchangers in airports or popular tourist areas, where businesses often charge the highest exchange rates.  

However, international travelers should do their homework with regard to the specific country they intend to visit. While it makes sense to withdraw money from an ATM in Australia, visitors to Belgium should exchange their cash at the airport.  

BEWARE OF FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEES  

Because credit card companies are increasingly competing for customers’ business, foreign transactions fees are becoming less common, according to Huffman. However, those that do charge fees might bill you 1 percent to 3 percent. For best results, check your cards before leaving home. If a card charges a fee, leave it behind.  

USE YOUR CREDIT CARD ABROAD  

If your credit card doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee, using a card overseas could actually save you money, said Kerry Sherin, a saving expert with Offers.com.  

“Equipped with a credit card, travelers won’t have to worry about converting currency, which means no more worrying about how much to convert for your trip, and you automatically get one of the lowest conversion rates possible when you use your credit card,” she said. “This rate is known as the interbank exchange rate.”  

UTILIZE CASH BACK  

If your bank doesn’t have ATMs where you are traveling, a quick fix might be found at the nearest drugstore.  

“Instead of paying exorbitant ATM fees, request cash back from grocery and drugstore purchases during your trip,” said Perez. “In most cases, these retailers will not charge you a fee to withdraw $20 to $100 in cash from your debit account.”  

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