Who doesn’t like saving money on travel, whether they have deep pockets or limited income–or just love getting a deal? That’s especially true when it comes to family travel, since exploring the world with kids can really add up fast.
Plus, travel is expensive in this post-pandemic world, and the added burden of inflation doesn’t make things any easier. In fact, annual inflation is costing the average household an estimated $460 more a month, according to data from Moody Analytics.
In the battle between the demand that has built up over the past couple of years and soaring costs, travel might still win out, says Bobbi Rebell CFP®, personal finance expert at Tally and author of Launching Financial Grownups. “Families have a new appreciation for the fact that it could be now or never—who knows when the window to travel may close again?” she says. “As a result, families are needing to be more creative and diligent with their vacation plans, perhaps opting for fewer trips or traveling shorter distances, but still going.”
Experts emphasize the importance of budgeting— planning out costs and setting aside certain amounts to spend on different aspects of your trip.
“Think of it like going to the supermarket right before a meal with no list—you don’t have the opportunity to compare prices, look for discount codes and you get stuck with whatever no one else has already bought,” says Rebell. “While you may want to just wing it, being unprepared often causes you to spend more money and waste time (which is just as valuable).”
Here are some savvy tips on shaving costs.
Work through the numbers first
Start planning as early as possible and invest the time in figuring out your budget before you go and price out your itinerary, Rebell recommends. “It’s so fun to look at the beautiful pictures of where you are headed,” she says. “But looking at the numbers ahead of time and paying for it in advance will take the stress out.” She suggests putting money from each paycheck into vacation savings—something you can do automatically.
Start planning early
“The sooner you book, the more likely you will be able to plan the ideal vacation with a reasonable budget,” Rebell says. That doesn’t mean you have to go crazy and book a year in advance—except for high-demand destinations or cruises that might fill up. But if you know ahead of time where you want to go, you have plenty of space to watch prices, rather than getting cornered at the last minute. When it comes to flights, according to a recent Points Guy article, for domestic trips you should keep a close eye on prices starting about a month out from your departure date. For some international flights, they suggest almost three months.
Eager to explore Europe? We feel you. But your budget might go farther if you opt for closer getaway that still has a faraway feel (Montreal, anyone?). Some other ways to save money with slightly different choices: stay in more affordable digs for most of the trip, then splurge on a fancier hotel at the end.
“If you are dreaming of a beach vacation in a certain locale but a similar one goes on sale—jump on that,” Rebell says. The more flexible you can be on the exact dates and times that you fly, the better deals you are likely to get, she adds. That can be especially true if you are able to fly on a Tuesday instead of, say, a Saturday.
Check hotels and vacation rentals
Some people love the amenities and service that many hotels provide. Other travelers are die-hard vacation-rental devotees. But one isn’t always cheaper or more convenient than the other. Depending on your destination, trip length and group size, you may find a better deal at a hotel or a rental home, so it’s worth researching both options. For longer stays, rentals tend to be better deals. For very short ones, hotels may be a much better option—and sometimes, the only option. A kitchen helps you save on meals, but only if you have access to a grocery store. There’s also a third option for families: apartment hotels, which in big cities like New York can offer the space of a private home with the convenience of a hotel. If they’re not turning up on your favorite booking site, just hit Google.
Cash in those points and miles
If you have a travel credit card or rack up loyalty points in other ways, it can be tempting to hoard them. That’s smart if you’re saving for a specific big trip. But otherwise, it’s likely to just result in losing buying power over time. That’s right, inflation affects frequent-flyer miles, too. The companies that run programs can change the rules whenever they like, making fights and hotel rooms more expensive to buy with points, imposing blackout dates, and more. So if you’ve got them, use them. And if you don’t, check out our articles on the basics of points and miles and how to choose the right one for your family.
Consider monthly or annual passes
Is there a place you travel to often, like Walt Disney World or another theme park—or even a museum or zoo? It might be worth buying passes or memberships to bring your per-visit price down, even if you’re not local. “Our family are huge Disneyland fans, but the ticket price to take a family into Disneyland is really expensive,” says David Delisle, financial advisor, marketing director, and real estate investor. “We will buy an annual pass and use that same pass for multiple trips within a year.” Be sure to do the math on such passes, and be confident—not just hopeful—that you will actually use them. Otherwise, you could well end up wasting money instead of saving it.
Buy breakfast and snacks ahead of time
Even simple family snacks and morning meals can add up quickly if you’re buying them on the spot. A great way to reduce costs is to shop for a few essentials after you arrive at your destination, whether you’re staying at a hotel or rental. Yogurt is easy to stash in a mini-fridge, as is milk to splash over granola or cereal. Snack bars are way cheaper at a grocery store than in a theme park. “This is something that we can easily pickup and have in our hotel room, even if the room doesn’t have a fridge, and skip an expensive sit down meal with the family for breakfast,” Delisle says. It also means less time deciding where to eat and waiting for the check, and more time exploring.
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