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How to plan a vacation and save money

Generally speaking, a vacation isn’t an essential purchase, unlike buying a car to get to work. Then again, maybe it is—vacations can be important for mental health. However, it’s also important to plan ahead to keep your trip from becoming a financial setback.

When money is no object, those decisions are fairly low stakes. But when you’re working within a budget, most, or even all, of your vacation decisions come down to ranking priorities and costs.

First, decide where you want to go

Whether you want to backpack through Nepal, hit amusement parks in Florida, or see the sights on a weekend road trip—your adventure starts with a plan. You’ll need to decide where you’re going, how you're getting there, what you’ll do there, how you’ll eat, where you’ll sleep, and how you're getting back home. These may seem like simple things, but planning in advance can save you money.

Book travel in advance—but not too far in advance

Booking your flight 6 months in advance may give you the most choices in terms of seats and flights but it may not result in the best price. On the other hand, cutting it too close, looking for flights a week before you travel can be expensive. In some cases, you risk not being able to get a seat at all on the day you’d like to travel. Splitting the difference between the extremes may be best to get a good deal and get the seat you want.

Compare your travel booking options

There are a number of ways to book your trip, including going straight to the service provider you’re interested in, searching online travel agencies, and working with a travel agent. See how you can use these booking options to potentially save money on your travel needs.

Online travel sites

If you know where you’re traveling to, many online travel sites allow you to compare travel dates, airlines, and hotels yourself. When comparing prices be sure to also look at the ratings, amenities (like breakfast and parking), fees, and incidental charges to make sure you’re comparing the full cost of your choice—and to help determine if you’re getting a good deal or not.

It’s also helpful to know prices on these sites can change based on availability and other travel factors, checking a few different sites and a few times before you book could be a helpful strategy to save money.

Travel agents

On the other hand, travel agents often have access to promotions or travel deals that might not be visible to you through an online search—and many travel agents offer their services for free. If you’re a bit more flexible on where and when you want to travel, using a travel agent could help you save money.

You may also have the option to pay for your vacation in installments when using a travel agent. They generally require you to put down a deposit, but then allow you to pay the remaining balance over time before your trip. Ask your travel agent if this is an option, it could give you time to save and budget for your vacation.

Concierge services

Check to see if your employer offers a concierge service, they may be able to help with your planning and reservations, which could save you money.

Consider all-inclusive vacations

All-inclusive trips and tours can help with some of the big vacation decisions: what to do and where to eat. These packages can make travel decisions easy. Plus, you know your vacation costs up front—generally meals, drinks, accommodations, and entertainment are included.

All-inclusive vacations have grown in popularity. Whether it’s a cruise, a guided tour, or a stay at a resort, the all-inclusive vacation options have grown—and gotten more luxurious.1 If you want to just take a vacation without the stress of figuring out what to do, an all-inclusive vacation could be for you.

Take advantage of credit card reward points

Credit card rewards can help you save money on your trip, or they can help upgrade your travel and accommodations. Every travel reward program works a little bit differently and it can pay to thoroughly research the terms and conditions to make sure you understand how your card’s program works.

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1. Sally French, “2023 Is the Year of All-Inclusive Travel, and Here’s Why,” NerdWallet, December 20, 2022,

This information is general in nature and provided for educational purposes only.