The average American will take eight vacation days this summer--and spend several hundred dollars to get there. To help you plan ahead, we asked the editors of Budget Travel for advice on how to save some change. Here are their top tips.
1 Quick! Get a ticket. Fuel prices, along with industry pressure to increase profits, are pushing flight prices to the sky. In February, domestic travelers paid an average 12.9 cents per mile flown, up 12.4 percent from last year, according to the Air Transport Association. And prices are likely to keep increasing in the peak season. The lesson: cheap seats are scarce; get to a computer now.
2 Let's make a deal. How to leave no bargain unturned: start by searching your favorite airline's site. Then comparison-shop on the big sites like priceline.com (look for packages) and low-cost carriers' sites like jetblue.com . Finally, try kayak.com and sidestep.com , search engines that scoop up the best deals from other travel sites and send you to them.
3 Oh, the places you'll go. Europe is a hot spot in the summer. So fly elsewhere--and you won't need to worry about high airfares or the weak dollar. Two good bets: Latin America and Asia, says Edward Hasbrouck, author of "The Practical Nomad."
4 Need a lift? Book online--but go for the smallest, cheapest car. They're normally the first to run out, and when they do, you'll get upgraded free of charge. Maybe even to a convertible, says an Avis employee at a California airport. Otherwise, you can pay a little more for a better model at the counter.
5 Take a pass. In a new city, do as the tourists do and buy a CityPass ( citypass.com ), says Dorothy Jordon, editor of Family Travel Times. For $49 (versus $105) in San Francisco, you'll get into the De Young Museum and other attractions. Gocardusa .com and power passcard.com offer similar deals.
6 A room with a view is becoming harder to find. Web sites like hotels.com stand by their discounts. But chains are fighting back, guaranteeing lower prices on their sites. Check both, and call the hotel, too.
7 But if it's last minute ... you might not want to book at all, says Hasbrouck. "The front desk has de facto power" to lower the rate for walk-in guests if there are vacancies. But you need to be willing to bargain--and move on to another hotel.
8 No vacancy? Local farms (really) offer lodgings, too. Rooms in Pennsylvania start at $55, according to Nadine Fox of pafarmstay. com . Granted, the accommodations might be a little worn out. But, "because of insurance regulations, you don't do many chores." Choose between farms with buffalo, peacocks or llamas. You'll at least go home with great photos.