this Friday, May 28, 2010, file photo, tourists
and local residents enjoy a day the the beach as
Memorial Day weekend begins in the South Beach
area of Miami, Beach, Fla. With a little advance
planning, and some insider tips, summer
vacations can be a lot less expensive.
YORK — It's May. Memorial Day and the end of the
school year are in sight. Suddenly, you're thinking
about a summer vacation. A little advance planning —
and some insider tips — can save you a lot of money.
Whether you're booking airfare, a car rental or a
hotel room, there are questions you should ask first.
When is the best time to buy airfare?
There is no overarching rule, but generally the sweet
spot for buying is four to six weeks before you
travel. Prices are highest eight to 10 weeks and two
to three weeks in advance. However, start your search
earlier, if possible. Learn what fares tend to be on a
route so you can jump on a deal when one appears.
Timing it right can save a family hundreds of dollars.
And remember, with most fares you now have 24 hours to
cancel for any reason. Use that to your advantage.
it worth paying for extras such as more legroom,
access to shorter security lines and early boarding?
There are a number of variables to consider here,
including the length of your flight — and your legs.
The airline and time of day can also matter.
can buy your way to the front of a security line.
United, for examples, charges $9 for the privilege.
But first consider the time you're flying. At
lunchtime on a Tuesday, the airport is probably empty
anyway. However, if you're leaving Orlando or Las
Vegas on a Sunday, the fee could be money well spent.
early improves your chances of finding overhead space.
But that's about it. If you don't have a carry-on bag,
then save the money — typically $10 each way. Only
on Southwest — which doesn't assign seats — is
there an additional advantage: being first to pick
where to sit.
there's legroom. JetBlue charges extra for seats in
the front of the plane with more legroom. But its
standard seats already have three inches more legroom
than a similar seat on United. "Preferred
seats" on American Airlines start at $4 and climb
to $99, depending on the length of a flight. But there
isn't extra space — you're just nearer the front.
Use sites like SeatGuru.com and SeatExpert.com to
review specific seats.
I need rental car insurance?
The rental firms sell collision damage waiver (CDW)
insurance for up to $25 extra a day. It offers
protection from theft, vandalism or other damage. It's
a major source of revenue. Decide whether you need
this insurance long before you get to the counter.
personal insurance policy likely covers rental cars.
It probably also extends liability insurance to your
rental, which you also need. But confirm this well
ahead of time with your insurer.
credit cards offer rental car insurance. Some offer
primary insurance. Most only cover what your personal
insurance does not. And cards have plenty of
exclusions. If you are renting for more than two weeks
or traveling to Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Australia,
Italy or New Zealand, you might not be covered. Exotic
and luxury cars, some vans, motorcycles and SUVs
card probably doesn't cover the rental company's
"loss-of-use" fee — a surcharge for the
revenue lost while the vehicle is in the shop. Some
personal insurance policies cover this, some don't.
for the rental with the card that gives you the best
protection. Debit cards typically don't offer the same
for liability insurance, if you don't have a personal
policy you should probably buy this extra coverage,
which costs a few hundred dollars. Or if you rent
frequently, insurance companies will sell you annual
non-owner car insurance policies.
it worth adding a GPS or toll collection device?
You don't need to pay up to $14 extra a day for a GPS.
If you own a portable GPS, bring it with you. Or use
your smartphone. Just be warned: using the
smartphone's GPS tends to drain its battery.
automatic toll collection device will cost about $5 a
day. It can save you time at busy toll plazas if
you're traveling during holiday weekends. But when
traffic is normal, it is harder to justify the time
you decline the service and the car still has a toll
device, make sure it is properly stored in the
protective case. If a toll booth picks up the signal
you'll be charged the toll and face a hefty penalty
from the rental company.
How can I save a few bucks on my stay?
Ask about extra charges. Parking at some hotels might
be $10 a night, while big city hotels can charge in
excess of $50. Internet access might cost $10 a day or
more. Many big hotels also have a mandatory resort fee
— that includes Internet, phone calls and use of the
pool — that can run $25 a night or more.
for savings on food and drink. Hotel chains such as
Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn Express
offer free breakfasts. Others offer free bottled water
in the room.
the frequent guest program. Omni, Fairmont and Kimpton
all give program members free WiFi — even those who
have yet to spend a night. Fairmont gives its members
free access to its health clubs. Kimpton gives a $10
credit toward snacks in its minibars.
chains typically run summer promotions. They offer
loyalty club members rewards like a $25 gas card or a
free future night after just two stays.
smaller hotels and bed and breakfasts, pick up the
phone and negotiate.
Are nonrefundable rooms a good deal?
Sites like Priceline and Hotwire offer deep discounts
in exchange for taking a chance. Vacationers only
learn the name of a hotel after they pay upfront. They
also aren't guaranteed a bed type or choice of smoking
or non-smoking room. And some hotels give such guests
less-desirable room locations, like next to the ice
hotels now offer nonrefundable rates on their own
websites. The savings might be less, but you still get
to pick your room type and know where you will be
staying. If your plans change and you rebook, however,
you lose your money.
in mind that room prices can drop after you book. That
discounted, nonrefundable rate could still be higher
than if you booked the room a month later.
relatively new travel site, Tingo.com, tries to
balance the best of both worlds. Guests prepay for a
fully-refundable hotel room. But if the rate falls,
Tingo automatically cancels the reservation and
rebooks travelers at the new, lower rate, and refunds
the difference. The typical rebate is $50, according
to the site, which is owned by TripAdvisor.