Ways to travel for less money this summer

  • Fri Jun 1st, 2012 1:03pm
  • Life

By Eileen Ambrose The Baltimore Sun

Money may be tight, but a lot of us still want a summer vacation.

A recent survey by travel site Orbitz.com found that nearly 8 of 10 respondents will be taking a vacation this summer.

Jeanenne Tornatore, senior editor at Orbitz.com, says that, with airfares up, the top 10 destinations for the summer are all in the United States except one: Cancun, Mexico.

Budget-conscious travelers will be able to find deals, but it won’t be easy.

“This summer is about getting a better bad deal,” said Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare.com.

“The deals will be few and far between, so don’t procrastinate.”

Here are some tips:

Expect higher airfares: George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, says airlines can change fares many times during the day, so he recommends setting up fare alerts at one of the online travel sites to notify you by email or Twitter when prices fall.

Plenty of travel sites allow you to compare airfares among airlines. Airlines’ own sites may post even cheaper fares, Hobica said.

If you are booking far in advance and worry that you might miss out on a lower fare later, consider flying with JetBlue, Southwest Airlines or Alaska Airlines, Hobica said.

They will allow you to switch without penalty to another one of their flights if the fare is lower, he said. Plus, they will give you a credit that can be used for future travel, he said.

Break up a trip: You pay about 20 percent more for a nonstop flight, so it’s cheaper to use connecting flights, Seaney said.

You also can save money by taking a less direct route or using more than one airline.

Travel experts say that it can be cheaper to fly with one airline to your destination and take another carrier back home.

Timing is everything: Avoid peak travel times by scheduling departures and returns for the least expensive days: Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, Seaney said.

Early morning and evening flights tend to be cheaper, too, he said.

You can save as much as 6 percent on hotels by staying in June instead of July, Tornatore said.

And you’ll find more attractive deals for family destinations, such as Orlando, Fla., in mid- to late August when kids head back to school.

Out-of-season destinations: Travel experts say ski resorts in the summer are inexpensive and have a lot of activities, such as hiking and festivals.

June and July tend to be affordable times in the Caribbean, Tornatore said.

City trips: Big-city fans should time their visits for the weekends, after business travelers and local residents have left town and hotel rates drop.

Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel, said Chicago made her site’s list of bargain destinations because of the affordable airfare and attractive hotel rates.

For other bargain cities, Clem Bason, president of Hotwire Group recommends Washington, D.C., in August when government workers abandon the city; New York because the European economy may force visitors to stay home this year; and Vancouver, B.C.

Lodging alternatives: Opt for three-star hotels instead of four stars, Banas said, or stay five nights instead of seven. She also suggests a cheaper option: Rentals of flats, villas or vacation homes, especially for groups of four or more.

Banas said she recently rented a place in Paris for about 100 euros a day, or half the price of what a much smaller hotel room would cost.

Find rentals at Airbnb.com, SlipKey.com, HomeAway.com and VRBO.com.

Like airfares, hotel rates fluctuate. To avoid getting burned when a rate drops after you made a reservation, consider Tingo.com where you can book a “money back” room if the rates drop.

Some hotel chains are offering gas cards, worth as much as $50, with a couple of nights’ stays.

“We’re anticipating more offers,” says Rich Rodriguez, a spokesman for BNBFinder.com. Innkeepers on the bed-and-breakfast site have posted roughly twice as many offers as this time last year, he said.

Also, don’t overlook a hotel’s amenities, Tornatore said. It may be worth paying a little more if a hotel offers free breakfast, Wi-Fi or meals for the kids, she said.

“With free breakfasts, a family of four can save $50 or $60 a day,” she said.