How to save money on travel

Learn 9 tips to make a trip less expensive.

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Key takeaways

  • Travel has become extra pricey lately, but you don't have to make big sacrifices in order to stay on budget.
  • These budget travel tips, including planning your vacation earlier and flying on certain days, could make your trip more affordable.

We all feel it—it's time for a vacation. Nearly 90% of Americans are traveling this summer, with about half expecting to be away for more than 2 weeks.1 It's too bad that traveling is expensive—and getting more expensive, thanks to a combination of increased demand boosting prices and inflation. So it's no surprise that 69% of people planning summer vacations say they are changing, shortening, or skipping their trips because of increased costs.2

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Smart changes in how you book and travel can make getting away more affordable. Read on for 9 tips on how to travel for less.

1. Book flights 2 months in advance

Plane tickets are usually more expensive if you book at the last minute. Start looking at fares months before your trip, and then book when you spot a comparatively low rate. On average, the best time to book a flight is about 2 months before flying,3 and you can often find the cheapest rate directly on the airline's website.4 Checking out third-party vendor sites can help you figure out which airline offers the lowest prices.

2. Time your travel right

Flights, train tickets, and rental car prices are higher on the busiest days of the week, which are typically Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. If you can, travel on Tuesdays or Wednesdays when there's usually less demand and lower prices, on average.5 Renting a car on a Tuesday instead of a Friday could mean a big discount.6

It's not always possible, but if you have some flexibility, try to avoid peak times, such as holidays and school breaks. Traveling during "shoulder season"—the period between high season and off-seasons—may increase your chances of finding a deal. For example, September and November in Hawaii or April and May in Florida.

3. Compare flying and driving costs

In the past, it's typically been cheaper to drive your own car than fly. But today's high gas prices may change the equation. You can calculate your estimated gas expenses by multiplying your car's average miles per gallon by the total length of the trip, and then multiply that by the cost of gas. Keep in mind, too, that gas in certain states may be more expensive than others. For example, California gas can be about $1.70 more expensive per gallon than the national average.7

4. Skip the rental car

There are a lot of ways to get from A to B. A rental car may be one of the most expensive. With more people traveling, on top of a national car shortage, rental car companies have been charging more than ever.8 In the summer of 2021, rental rates were 75% higher than pre-pandemic and could be just as high this summer.9

If you normally rent a car once you arrive at your destination, consider alternatives. While you'll save the most by using public transportation and biking, relying on rideshares is another option. Use an online rideshare fare calculator to help you estimate your bill. Then compare that estimate to the cost of renting a car, including the cost of gas.

5. Lower gas costs

The average cost of gas in the US sat at $4.33 per gallon in May, up about 46% from last year.10 If you need to drive during an upcoming getaway, try a few tricks to improve fuel efficiency and find cheaper pump prices, like ditching excess cargo and avoiding gas stations near major intersections. Read more on how to save money on gas.

6. Use points

If you've been traveling less during the last 2 years, you may have some travel rewards points gathering dust. Using them is one way to discount or fully pay for your trip. Many credit card reward systems give you the best value per point when they're put toward travel. And because you can't invest points the way you can with money, it's wise to use as many points as possible before tapping your cash.

7. BYO food

We've all been there—hungry at the airport or on a road trip, forced to buy overpriced snacks. Packing food from home can help you avoid the markup. Don't forget to bring an empty, reusable water bottle, especially if you're flying. Bottled water at airports normally costs from $2.50 to $5.11 Once you get through security, fill up at a water fountain before boarding your flight.

8. Try unconventional ways to pay less for a hotel

Hotel prices can be flexible. You may be able to negotiate the online price by calling a hotel directly, or asking if they have any discounts for students, government employees, or members of certain groups, such as AAA. You can also consider hotels that usually have cheaper rates, such as those that are close to airports, although you may pay a little extra on transportation for getting around town during your stay. Some hotels that are under construction may rent rooms at a discount, which is a great option if you can deal with the noise. Or get a deal at a micro hotel, where rooms are normally less than 200 square feet.

9. Rent out your place while you're gone

You could actually make money while on vacation by renting out your house or apartment—or even your parking spot—during your getaway. There are multiple companies that make it easy to list your property and find temporary renters. If you're a renter yourself, get your landlord's approval in writing before you list your place. Check out an online vacation rental calculator, which can estimate how much you could make renting.

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