Next Avenue: 7 money-saving tricks for your summer vacation

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The first rule of saving money traveling during the summer is to not travel during the summer! For many destinations, summer is peak travel season, and prices go up accordingly. But don’t despair: You can cut your summer vacation costs by using some of the seven hacks below:

Not everybody has the time or interest to “go deep” on money-saving techniques. That’s why this summer vacation guide offers three levels for each hack:

  • Entry-Level Hacks: These usually only take a few minutes and don’t require any special skills.
  • Midlevel Hacks: These take a little more time, may require some specialized knowledge, and might require more focus and organization.
  • Jedi-Level Hacks: These hacks can cost you money if you do them wrong and are only recommended for experienced travel hackers.
1. Book flights during the least expensive times

When you book your flight, the day of the week that you’ll fly can make a big difference in what you’ll pay. Bottom line: when you book wisely, you save big.

Entry-Level Hack: Use Google GOOG, -0.31%   Flights and a web search to determine which days are cheapest to fly to your destination of choice. And book on a Tuesday.

Midlevel Hack: Once you know when you want to travel, set up a pricing alert on a fare website like Skyscanner or Kayak to send you an automatic notice when prices go down.

Jedi-Level Hack: Stay up late on special-deal days when airlines world-wide offer absurdly low prices on select tickets. Some of the best include “singles day” (November 11th), Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Also, keep an eye out for special events (like anniversaries) for individual airlines.

2. Pack less and buy when you get there

Baggage fees are getting out of hand, with some airlines even charging for a carry-on bag. That can add $100 or more to the cost of your ticket. Bringing only your essentials can ease this problem. But here are ways to save more:

Entry-Level Hack: Lower baggage fees by scratching toiletries, hats, heavy footwear and more than one book from your packing list. Instead, make a quick trip to a discount or thrift store at your destination to pick them up.

Midlevel Hack: As your vacation ends, take anything that won’t fit in your single bag and donate it to a local Goodwill, a religious institution, a homeless shelter or a charity. Also, consider doing this with some older clothes to make room for souvenirs.

Jedi-Level Hack: Look closely at the prices and amenities for upgraded airline seats. Business class or those extra-leg-room seats sometimes let you bring on a bag free. Similarly, some airline miles cards have baggage allowances, which can more than make up for their annual fee.

Don’t miss: The handy $29 item that travel pros say they won’t take a trip without

3. Book flights anonymously

As Next Avenue has explained in its article about dynamic pricing, if your web  browser history shows you’ve been researching a destination, your fare might be higher. That’s because the airline thinks you’re so serious about flying that you’d be willing to pay more. These tips can help prevent this:

Entry-Level Hack: Research your vacations at home, but book from your work computer. Some airline fare trackers will know it’s you, but not as many as if you booked from home.

Midlevel Hack: When you book your ticket, open an incognito browser window, so most fare-finders won’t know it’s you.

Jedi-Level Hack: Install what’s known as the TOR browser on your computer or use a virtual private network. Both methods make your information invisible, so you’ll never pay that “interest tax” again.

See: 11 ways to beat surge pricing

4. Get tactical with airline miles cards

Airline miles cards let you accumulate points toward free travel, but they’re run by businesses aiming to make a profit. Here’s how to make them pay you instead of the other way around:

Entry-Level Hack: Put as many of your utility payments on your airline miles cards as you can and then pay off the balance every month.

Midlevel Hack: Pay attention to bonus miles offers, which come when you first get the card and during seasonal specials. Then, make your infrequent, high-ticket purchases — like holiday shopping, car maintenance and home improvements — to match.

Jedi-Level Hack: “Cycle” your miles by buying gift cash cards using your airline miles card and then paying off the purchases as soon as you receive the cards.

Also see: Are you overestimating the value of your travel rewards?

5. Coordinate airfare and lodging

Package deals on airfare sites or offered by travel agents don’t always save you money. They’ll often tack on a “convenience fee” for the privilege. But there are ways to save if you coordinate your vacation airfare and lodging on your own:

Entry-Level Hack: Find out which hotels and airlines are allied for rewards programs. You can often get big discounts, nice upgrades or multipliers on your points by working within those alliances.

Midlevel Hack: Read the details of your airline miles card to see which hotels offer discounts or other deals to people with the card. This kind of partnership is growing increasingly common.

Jedi-Level Hack: Research the best package deal on the airfare website, then call the hotel and see if it can beat that price. In many cases, it will.

Also see: Here’s how booking one-way flights takes maximum advantage of your airline miles

6. Cut the cost of banking while traveling

When you vacation somewhere your bank isn’t, ATM fees can bite you. And if you travel internationally, things get even worse. So, fine-tune your banking while on vacation:

Entry-Level Hack: Open a small, fee-free bank account online. A dozen or so banks offer this service, with no monthly fees and rebates on ATM fees at the end of each month.

Midlevel Hack: Before traveling internationally, get your cash while you’re still in your home country. Your bank might take a couple of days to order the local currency, but almost always offers a better exchange rate than what you’ll get at a bank abroad. Once you arrive, try to buy with cash to avoid the (often exorbitant) foreign transaction fees levied by credit and debit cards.

Jedi-Level Hack: Research frequent-traveler credit cards. These require a pretty good credit score but have no foreign transaction fees. They also usually a handful of travel assistance, concierge and similar conveniences. Their annual fees can be pricey, though, which is why this is a Jedi-level hack.

7. Go deep on ground transportation

Renting a car on vacation from one of the big rental agencies can get expensive. So, consider other options.

Entry-Level Hack: Use a discount car-rental site or local budget car-rental options to get a vehicle at a quarter to half the price you’d otherwise pay at the airport.

Midlevel Hack: Run the math on whether two Uber UBER, -2.44%   or Lyft LYFT, -0.41%   trips a day might cost you less than renting a car. If so, plan your daily activities accordingly, keeping two ride shares as your daily maximum.

Jedi-Level Hack: Research train and bus options in your destination (including multiday, multi-ride passes available in most cities). After all, getting there can be part of the adventure, as you ride next to locals and see more of the place you’re visiting.

Mark Brown is a freelance writer with over 10 years of experience. He writes about personal finances and traveling for a variety of websites and imprints. He lives and works in Austin, Texas.

This article is reprinted by permission from, © 2019 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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