Friday, May 11, 2007

Saving Money on Vacation

When we go on vacation I try not to think about cost constantly. While we don't go crazy with our spending, a vacation is one of those times where you really want to enjoy yourself and unwind, without constantly thinking about money.

However, if there is an easy way to reduce the cost of your vacation, why not do so? So as my family is getting ready for our Memorial Day Weekend getaway to San Diego, I thought I would share a few of the things we do to reduce the cost of our vacations, without giving up on any of the fun:

1. Travel - guess what, driving is cheaper than flying. So for this vacation we will be driving from the Bay Area to San Diego. It's a good long drive, but we will be saving quite a bit of money on flights, and we won't need to rent a car while we are there.

If flying is necessary, we typically use the regular travel sites, such as Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz, however a new crop of travel sites, such as FareCast and Kayak are even better, and FareCast adds an interesting twist by predicting whether you should book your flights immediately or wait a few days for the price to drop.

An old fashioned, but highly effective way to save money on flights is to call a travel agent. On a recent trip, my wife was able to save about $300 on the cost of an international flight (that's below the lowest online price we could find) by calling a travel agent. The downside? Paper tickets, and no electronic check-in, or pre-booking the seats on the flight.

Finally, and this is an old one, booking your flights as much in advance as possible will almost guarantee a lower fare. Alternatively, most airlines offer last minute getaway deals at substantially discounted prices. Although if you opt for that option, you need to be flexible on your destination. Hey, Topeka is lovely this time of year!

2. Accommodations - we find that renting a vacation home is both cheaper and more fun than staying at a hotel. In addition, many vacation homes have great amenities that you can never get in a hotel, such as a hot tub, DVD player and of course, your own kitchen.

Staying in a vacation home is even more fun if traveling with friends or family. Instead of saying goodnight after having dinner together, when staying in a vacation home everyone can hang around together, watch a movie and share a good bottle of wine. It's simply more fun.

An excellent resource we use for locating a suitable vacation home is Vacation Rentals by Owners. There are many other sites and resources of this nature, but we have had an excellent track record with VRBO over the years.

3. Tickets - a guaranteed way to waste money is to purchase attraction tickets when you get to the park / show / attraction. Once you are there you are already hooked, so the chance of a discount is almost non-existent. However, if you buy your tickets in advance, most places offer sizable discounts.

For example, for our ski vacation this winter we purchased our lift tickets to Northstar at Tahoe at our neighborhood REI, reducing the cost of the tickets by $13 per person, per day. That adds up to serious savings. Similarly, we were able to purchase discounted tickets for a quick trip to Heavenly at our local Albertson's store before we left the Bay Area.

Many companies offer their employees discounts on a variety of activities through services such as Beyond Work. For our Memorial Weekend getaway, we already purchased tickets to Legoland ($41.5 instead of $57), SeaWorld ($48.5 instead of $55) and the Wild Animal Park ($26 instead of $33). That's a considerable discount if you are taking the whole family.

The bottom line: with little planning and common sense you can save substantial amounts on your vacation, without giving up any of the fun, and without constantly worrying about your spending.

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