How to Save Money on Vacations

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Everyone wants to save money on vacations. Why wouldn’t they?

For a variety of financially-driven reasons, only 51% of eligible American employees utilize their allotted vacation time, according to MarketWatch. Many respondents expressed that they couldn’t afford to take vacation, did not want to return to piles of unfinished work, or did not trust a colleague to complete their work in their absence. Among other reasons, perhaps Americans are just stuck in the grind, suffering DINGOs who cannot afford a vacation, or are naturally poor savers.

In October, Mrs. Superhero and I will enjoy a guilt-free vacation getaway and spend four days in Las Vegas. It has been fun to research, plan, and discuss all of the activities that we would like to include during our stay, as this will be our first trip to Vegas. I admit that I am overwhelmed by all of the options, but I am choosing to think positively. We will just have to return to Vegas another time – which should be very possible considering the money we will save on this vacation!

How to Save Money on Vacations

 

STEPS TO SAVE MONEY ON VACATIONS

While there are many ways to save money on vacations, I recommend the following steps because they are tried and true. They have helped me and my wife save money on vacations, and we believe they can help you, as well.

Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail

In the midst of our planning for our vacation to Las Vegas, there is one thing my wife and I haven’t had to consider: how we are going to pay for the vacation.

A few months back, I opened a Digit account in order to satisfy our goal to save money for vacations automatically on a regular-basis. So far, our account has swelled to nearly $900, and we haven’t missed the money one bit. That money will cover the costs of our package deal, which includes airfare and resort stay. We will address our plan to cover the costs of food and entertainment below.

Recommended Open your own Digit savings account for free today!

Many people only pause to consider how they are going to pay for their vacations after they’ve already swiped their credit card. When you consider the fact that credit card interest rates may range anywhere from 12 to 26 percent, on average, we have discovered how not to save on vacations!

With a minimal effort, you can create a plan for paying for your vacation in advance. Remember – if you fail to plan, plan to fail!

Book Your Vacation As Far Ahead As Possible

Generally speaking, a common way to save money on vacations is to book your trip as far ahead as possible. Airlines and hotel chains have a simple mission: strive to reach full-capacity for every flight and individual hotel at all times. They are unlikely to achieve this goal, of course, but they increase their odds of doing so by offering advantageous savings far in advance of travel dates.

We recommend consulting a variety of websites, such as ExpediaTripAdvisor, and Airfare Watchdog to monitor prices. On most of these platforms, you can create and save itineraries and opt to receive price alerts. You can also utilize the option to name your own prices on Priceline.com.

When planning our Las Vegas vacation, we found the best deal for our preferred resort on Expedia.

One word of caution when booking in advance: Be sure to read the fine print regarding cancellation policies and purchase cancellation protection/insurance if you feel there is a chance you may need to cancel your vacation.

Consider Last Minute Vacations

If you are unable to book your vacation in advance and can accept flexible travel dates, you may save money on vacations by purchasing last minute deals.

When Mrs. Superhero and I were planning our first wedding anniversary vacation several years ago, we were able to find a deep discount on a hotel room in Traverse City, Michigan. We found this deal despite the fact that our stay coincided with the National Cherry Festival. Vacationers who have flexible calendars, and in particular those who are educators, can take advantage of similar last minute deals to save money on vacations.

Plan Your Meals, Too

In most vacation budgets, the third-largest line item after airfare and hotel costs, respectively, is often food. You have to eat on vacation. If you’re like me, you like to eat well and try new foods. Fortunately, you can do this at a reasonable cost.

At breakfast time, avoid eating at your hotel or resort unless the meal is free or included with your stay. Typically, you can save money on vacations by walking a block or two to find more affordable breakfast options. You may even opt to enjoy a light breakfast in your room by eating food purchased at a grocery store.

Most tourist attractions aim to pad their bottom lines by preying upon the impulse of unsuspecting vacationers. They know how to take advantage of your unexpected hunger and thirst. This is why theme parks can charge $10 for bottled water and $12 for a hot dog. By planning ahead, you can save money on vacations even within your food budget. Aim to stock up on snacks and beverages at a grocery upon arriving at your destination. If you are driving, purchase these items before leaving home.

We recommend avoiding tourist hot spots. To save money on vacations, strive to eat and drink as do the locals. Once again, TripAdvisorGroupon, and Restaurant.com can provide direction as you plan. In a pinch, you can also find last-minute deals in this manner, so be sure to download the appropriate apps for these platforms on your mobile device.

Additionally, opting to eat a larger lunch and smaller dinner can help you save money. Many lunch specials feature dinner entrees in smaller portions, but they are still large enough for lunch. When dinner time arrives, eating slowly and savoring a smaller meal can make it seem larger.

I am unconcerned about food and entertainment costs during our upcoming Las Vegas stay, as we will likely use Groupon and Restaurant.com as much as we can. Our normal budgeted funds for food/entertainment will cover the remaining costs. We will also loosen up the purse strings for one or two nice meals.

Stick to Your Plans

We will certainly face our share of unexpected expenses while in Las Vegas. However, most of them will be opportunities which we may choose rather required expenditures. We will need to exercise discipline and control in a land of many rich opportunities; of course, this is a well-known best practice which should be implemented in order to save money on vacations.

As budgeting guru Dave Ramsey often says, “Adults devise a plan and follow it; children do what feels good.” The power of suggestion and advertising can be very strong, especially on vacation. But if you remain in tune with your goals and values, you will not fall victim to impulse.

Find Free Events

You can find free events in virtually any vacation destination on any given day. This only requires a small effort to save money on vacations.

Apps such as Yelp, Eventbrite, and LikeALocal can help you to find free or cheap events. Again, plan ahead and download these apps on your mobile device prior to leaving on vacation.

Travel During Off-Peak Seasons

Despite my above example about the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City, traveling during off-peak seasons is the best way to save money on vacations. If at all possible, avoid travel to child-friendly locations during March and April (spring break time) and June-August (summer vacation). Also strive to avoid vacation travel during holiday weekends, such as Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day weekends. Airlines and hotels often charge holiday premiums during these peak times.

How to Save Money on Vacations
Avoid crowds by traveling during off-peak times

Concluding Thoughts

While vacation costs can put a strain on budgets big and small, you can take steps to save money on vacations. You work hard to earn your income and vacation time, so maximize every opportunity you can to rest and recharge without breaking the bank. Even if you truly cannot afford a vacation, consider an affordable staycation as a method to avoid burnout.

Finally, do not forget to take advantage of web sites and apps such as ExpediaAirfare WatchdogPriceline.comTripAdvisorGroupon, and Restaurant.com when planning a vacation. With any luck, they will help you save money on vacations!


What shows, restaurants, etc., do you recommend we check out in Las Vegas? What other tips do you recommend to save money on vacations? 

 

 

 

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16 thoughts on “How to Save Money on Vacations

  1. Great suggestions! Especially love how you are utilizing Digit. I’ve been doing the exact same thing and have been using it as my travel fund money. I’ve always had enough in there to cover my airfare.

    There’s a funny tension (as you can probably recognize) between booking your travel way ahead vs. waiting until the last minute. If you are a risk taker, you can often get discounted hotels if you wait until the last minute using apps like Hotel Tonight. Same with Airbnb. If you wait until the last minute with an Airbnb, you can usually snag a place for cheaper, especially if the host is just looking to fill the place.

    As an example, for my own Airbnb room that Ms. FP and I rent out, the prices are typically the most expensive the farther out you are. I then start dropping prices as the date gets nearer, until it reaches rock bottom prices. It’s a risky play, but definitely a way to save on lodging.

    1. Thanks for the tip about Hotels Tonight and Airbnb, FP. That tension between planning ahead and waiting until the very last minute is a tough one for a lot of vacationers to navigate.

  2. Good stuff here and the main focus of planning ahead is huge. Both in saving money and time. Planning your vacation ahead where and when you can should usually save money and helps avoid wasting time by deciding what you are going to do for the day. Thanks for the tips!

  3. Looking forward to your Vegas posts! We have yet to go there – but it is in the plans for the next few years. Following the “school calendar” is definitely a budget buster for many vacations. We were looking on Southwest and we can get round trip flights for about 11,000 miles (and we have a Companion pass) during February mid-week (and not near President’s Day). Going that week costs more than 4X the number of miles!

  4. Man, you guys are in for a treat in Vegas with the restaurants! I know, I know, Chicago’s a restaurant town. I dig Gibson’s and Topolobampo as much as anybody. But Vegas has really done it with the restaurant scene lately.

    Since it sounds like y’all are gonna eat breakfast out, you might dig Eggslut. It’s an LA transplant that I’ve never seen (in LA) without lines longer than the DMV.

    I’ve heard Guy Savoy pretty much has the best French food outside of Europe, but I haven’t been. A good friend spends way too much time in Vegas and has eaten there a couple of times and talks about it more than is healthy. But I gather eating there costs almost as much as flying to Paris, so I’d probably only go if he were gonna pay.

    Really, my feeling is the general level of execution at Vegas restaurants is so high right now that you guys can’t go wrong. If, by the way, you’re looking for a third-wheel to tag along and help you eat, I’d see what I can do. Have fun! That’s gonna be a great trip!

  5. Nice tips here, hero. I have to say, I don’t enjoy vacation planning the way some people do. It’s super stressful to me – not sure if it is the money that is the real stress or the fear of getting on a plane! But the money is a big one and these are some good tips. Eating out is a big one – especially when you have kids. It is actually pretty unpleasant to have every meal in a restaurant with children for any extended period. We always look for alternatives for breakfast and lunch. And sometimes dinner!

    1. To be honest, I usually find it stressful, too, Linda. I think I have a hard time planning because I want to try to squeeze in as much as possible. We have hard to start prioritizing a to-do list and narrowing things down. That has alleviated much of the stress for me.

    1. I’m really big on avoiding crowds. I think we might run into a decent crowd over Columbus Day weekend, but it won’t be as bad as other weekends.

  6. Great tips!

    We are last minute vacation people, and we’ve gotten some nice deals that way. With the kiddo, we like places that have kitchens, because eating in saves some money. Other than that, we try to be flexible where we are going, and look at different options to see what makes financial sense. And off-peak traveling is the best perk of having our kid in a year-round school.

  7. Vegas is a great place to have some fun in the sun on the cheap, as long as you stay away from those greedy casinos! I think the last time we went to Vegas our hotel room was something like $40/night.

    1. That’s an outstanding deal, FF. Mrs. Superhero has a specific hotel in mind, so I don’t think we’ll score a deal THAT good. We’re looking to book something in the next day or two.

  8. Awesome tips to planning a vacation. I love seeing cirque du soleil shows even though they aren’t always the most cost effective.

    Little known tip about reserving your hotel in Vegas if you haven’t already. You can find good deals at hotels on the strip through Airbnb or similar sites. Often times they will be someone’s vacation rental or condo that they will rent out for an awesome rate but you’ll still get a majority of the hotel amenities!

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