It’s no secret that cheap vacations can be hard to pull off. In fact, a 2013 study by American Express revealed that summer travel expenses average $1,145 per person. If you plan to get away in the fall or winter as well, your annual vacation costs could easily be far higher.
Vacations are meant to be relaxing, but skyrocketing travel budgets can cause a great deal of stress. Moreover, it’s hard to have fun on your holiday when you know you are coming home to a massive credit card bill.
Here are six of the most common vacation costs, along with tips to lower them for your next trip.
If you’ve flown anywhere in the last few years, you know that airfare is one of the most expensive vacation costs. In fact, a family of four that flies to a summer vacation destination spends an average of $3,304, according to ValuePenguin. Still, there are some ways to cut down on the cost of travel, without resorting to a road trip.
Choose the right day to fly. Flight prices are highest on Fridays, Sundays and Mondays, according to consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch. She advises families to plan their departures for Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Saturdays to score the best deals.
Book early. According to a 2014 CheapAir study of 1.5 billion fares, travelers who booked 47 days before their trips got the best deals on domestic flights. The study also found that travelers paid an average of $111 more for booking fewer than 14 days in advance and $174 for booking fewer than seven days ahead.
Said Woroch, “Make sure you’re searching approximately six weeks before your desired departure date, or two months for international trips, to find the best rates.”
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, consumer expert for Slickdeals, sophisticated airline company computer technology can use your cookies to fiddle with the fare for a flight after “learning” that you’re interested in it.
Said Conway, “Try opening an incognito window, which will sometimes allow you to access the original, lower price.”
Keep checking prices after you book. Just because you already booked your flight doesn’t mean you can’t still save money, said Kendal Perez, a savings expert with Coupon Sherpa.
“You can use tools like Yapta.com 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 United and 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.
2. Car Rental
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 cut that price.
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 vacationers to avoid upgrading to a sedan or SUV; after all, 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.
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. If you carry a membership to Costco, Sam’s Club or another warehouse store, check for car rental deals, said Woroch.
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.
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.com. Along with the rental cost, you can save on gas and parking at your destinations.
3. ATM, Credit Card and Phone 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.
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 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 it 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. This rate is known as the interbank exchange rate,” she said.
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. In most cases, these retailers will not charge you a fee to withdraw $20 to $100 in cash from your debit account,” said Perez.
Use data-monitoring apps. While traveling, you might not have access to WiFi. If you don’t have an unlimited data plan, Woroch suggests using apps like 3G Watchdog and DataMan Next, which can monitor your data usage and send an alert before you go over your limit.
Stay in airplane mode. Using your phone when you travel can mean hefty data bills. Benjamin K. Glaser, features editor at DealNews, suggests leaving your phone in airplane mode for the trip, so you can’t use data accidentally.
“Free messaging apps like WhatsApp can keep you connected [without data], and you can even make calls with Skype. Otherwise, all of the major carriers have international plans. In fact, most T-Mobile customers have unlimited data and text internationally,” he said.
4. Food, Drinks and Entertainment
Food, drinks and entertainment are essential parts of every vacation. However, with the average American spending $39.40 per meal, according to a Zagat 2015 study, dining out can quickly stress your vacation budget. Here are a few ways to make those costs more palatable.
Download meal apps. There are many apps that can help you find deals on meals, according to Woroch.
“Use apps like Meal Ticket to track down coupons for nearby restaurants, or find discount dining certificates through Restaurant.com,” she said.
Bring an empty water bottle. Water is expensive, especially in airports and hotels.
“Avoid paying $4 to $5 for bottled water at the airport by bringing an empty water bottle through security and filling up at a water fountain before you board,” said Perez.
Look for free entertainment. It’s easy to load up on costly outings during your vacation. However, many getaway destinations feature free entertainment. Perez advises travelers to enjoy complimentary excursions, such as walks on the beach and local festivals.
Dine out for only one meal per day. Try to limit your dining-out meals to just one per day, and supplement the rest of your needs with food from the local grocer, said Perez. You can also save money by opting for local street vendors instead of restaurants.
Choose a hotel with complimentary breakfast. When shopping around for accommodations, consider booking a hotel that offers a continental breakfast.
“You can grab extra boxes of cereal and whole fruits for snacks throughout the day, and fill up your water bottle with juice or top off your travel mug with coffee for free,” said Perez.
Look for deals. Before you travel, search for city-specific food and entertainment deals on Groupon, LivingSocial, Goldstar and other similar sites, said Huffman.
Sign up for an airline’s dining rewards program. According to Huffman, these programs allow travelers to earn miles and points just for dining at certain restaurants.
Get happy for an hour. Happy hours can make your vacation budget even happier, said Woroch, who advises inquiring with the hotel’s front desk about any nearby happy hour specials.
“During a trip to Hawaii, I found a restaurant offering Wine Wednesday, and we received 50 percent off a bottle of wine,” she said.
Depending on where you travel, hotels can easily break your budget. For instance, the average nightly rate for a New York City hotel room in 2015 was $245, according to NYCEDC.com. Here are some tips for scoring lower hotel room rates.
Download apps. The HotelTonight app amasses unsold rooms at high-end hotels and provides cut-rate pricing to users, said Woroch, who has seen last-minute luxury accommodations for up to 70 percent off.
Buy cancelations. Another traveler’s loss could be your gain thanks to Roomer, which lets you buy unwanted hotel room reservations at a reduced rate.
“The site connects you with travelers who are stuck with a reservation they can’t cancel, but who are willing to sell and transfer the reservation at a discount,” said Woroch.
Ask for a price match. Don’t expect them to advertise this fact, but many hotels will match a competitor’s lower price if you ask, Woroch said. Many third-party sites, like Hotels.com, will also price match.
Avoid weekends. If you can travel during the week, you might be able to save a bundle on lodging. According to Woroch, most hotels offer significant discounts for stays Sunday through Thursday. If you must stay during the weekend, try to book a business hotel, which tends to be busier during the week.
6. Travel Insurance
Travel insurance can cost from 4 to 8 percent of the total price of your vacation, according to Travel Insurance Review. Here are some ways to cut this cost without sacrificing your peace of mind.
Don’t insure your hotel or rental car. Hotels and rental car agencies often allow customers to cancel and get a full refund, so there’s no reason to pay a higher premium to insure these portions of the trip, said Damian Tysdal, founder of Travel Insurance Review. However, travelers should review their specific policies before making decisions.
Additionally, Tysdal recommends avoiding “Just Click Here” buttons when buying travel insurance. In most cases, consumers who utilize these options give up the right to select plans or companies and often wind up with stripped-down coverage. Instead, use a third-party site for comparisons.
If you plan to buy coverage, it’s best to do so at the time of your first trip payment. If you don’t, you risk missing out on the vital Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) coverage, which allows you to cancel your trip and still get reimbursed.
Bundle trips into one policy. If you’re planning to travel more than once in the next 12 months, consider covering your entire year of travel by paying an annual premium rather than a trip-by-trip rate. According to Huffman, bundling multiple trips often costs just slightly more than paying for one policy.
Related: 13 Ways to Save Money for Vacation