After a very difficult year and my father’s passing, my mom decided that we needed some time away. So, this summer my mom, nieces, and I are going to finally take the family vacation that he always wanted to have with his grandkids. It may also be the last opportunity we have to do a longer trip since the girls are growing up and will be going off to college soon. Unfortunately, we only had a couple of weeks to figure out dates, flights, hotels, car rentals, and ticket reservations. Thankfully, I have years of experience in the travel industry and was able to secure some fantastic last-minute travel deals. This is one family vacation we are all looking forward to.
Sites with the Top Travel Deals
With only three weeks to plan, the first task was to pick the destination and figure out transportation. After some debate, we settled on flying to San Diego and spending the week driving back. With that in mind, I went online to compare rates and deals.
I usually begin my search with travel sites like Travelocity, Expedia, or Kayak to estimate the total costs. They have the most competitive rates for hotels, flights, and car rentals. And, they offer package deals to local attractions to save you even more. Another benefit is that they check service providers and locations around the world. If you are looking to find last-minute deals, it’s the perfect option for one-stop shopping.
Rather than pigeonhole our trip with non-refundable tickets, I wanted to book directly through the airline. So, I bypassed the first offers and looked at individual flights. Google Flights gives you a great overview and compares rates across the greatest number of domestic and international airlines. And, you can browse their pop-up calendar to search for the lowest rates by day. I was quickly able to locate the cheapest flights and best routes.
For hotel reservations, I rely on booking.com since it checks all accommodation types. And, it doesn’t require a deposit for the reservation unless you choose a non-refundable rate. Furthermore, you can typically cancel within 24 hours of arrival if necessary. Since I have used them so much in the past, I have also received “genius” status from my reviews and get an additional 10% off. We were able to find dirt cheap deals on express hotels along our route home.
For the longest stay of the trip, we used Airbnb to look at vacation rentals. I find it to be the better option when traveling in bigger groups since you get more space without a huge price tag. We found an entire house for nearly half the price of two hotel rooms for the same stay. It’s also nice to have additional amenities like a full kitchen and laundry to reduce other costs for the trip. And since it’s in a prime location, we have easy access to all the places we want to see.
Although I haven’t used this site much in recent years, it’s a great option for last-minute reservations. You can find some unbelievable discounts if the conditions are right. However, there are no guarantees that you will get more than a standard room or discounts at a specific hotel. But if you’re looking for the best price, you can’t beat their rates.
When to Look for Travel Deals
Another thing to keep in mind is when to look for travel deals. During my time working in the hotel industry, several travel agents informed me that airlines evaluate their prices approximately 45-54 days before departure. If the flight is filling up, rates go up. However, if there are many open seats, you can find some huge discounts. When I find a potential flight, I set price alerts to notify me of rate changes to help me score the best deal.
You should also be aware of travel seasons and when certain locations hit their peak. If you are willing to wait until the low season, hotel and airline rates drastically drop.
I also try to avoid heavy travel days such as holidays and weekends. During the busiest travel times, rates can double or even triple. From my experience, the cheapest days to travel are usually Tuesdays and Wednesdays. However, you should also check their calendar travel dates for the lowest prices.
The Best Travel Deals
So, how much did all this save me? Let’s take a look…
We decided to fly one way to San Diego, then rent a car to drive back to see the Grand Canyon and a few other attractions along the way. I booked tickets for about $200 per person when most other airlines are charging $500+. I also found a great deal on a weekly car rental through Budget that was $400 less than the initial offers. In total, this saved about $1,600.
For the longest portion of the trip, we booked a vacation rental through Airbnb for only $225 a night. Not only will it give us more space, but it was also much cheaper than comparable hotel rooms which started at $150 per room, per night. And, the cheap hotels didn’t offer proximity, laundry facilities, or free breakfast. Not counting all the extras, this alone saved $375.
The remainder of the hotel nights were either booked using points or will be chosen along the way. We are also planning to stay with family for a few nights as well which will also cut down on costs.
Tickets to Attractions
You can also find ways to save money when you buy tickets to local attractions. We will have free admission to the San Diego zoo since we already bought a national zoo pass. And, we can also use our National Park Pass from last year since it is still valid. Having these passes saved us an additional $300+ on tickets.
However, you can also get discounted tickets if you buy a package, book through an online retailer, or qualify with any memberships.
Tips to Find the Right Deal for You
On a final note, here are a few tips to help you find the best travel deals.
- Know which things you can be flexible with and which you cannot. Flexibility with dates, desired location, and staying near public transportation can net you huge savings.
- Book directly with the service provider. Not only is it simpler to cancel and change reservations, many offer price matching with third-party sites.
- Check for discounts. It never hurts to ask and you may qualify for one of these discounts:
- 10% discounts with car clubs and discount buying club memberships
- senior citizen discounts
- employee or contractor rates
- friends and family discount
You don’t need to be a super sleuth to find the best travel deals. But knowing where to start will give you a headstart.
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Jenny Smedra is an avid world traveler, ESL teacher, former archaeologist, and freelance writer. Choosing a life abroad had strengthened her commitment to finding ways to bring people together across language and cultural barriers. While most of her time is dedicated to either working with children, she also enjoys good friends, good food, and new adventures.