Ticket To Savings

20 Ways To Stretch A Dollar On Your Summer Vacation

May 25, 2008|By Ellen Uzelac | Ellen Uzelac,Special to the Sun

With the weak dollar, record gas prices and fears of a recession, it's not surprising that many Americans are rethinking one of life's great pleasures: summer vacation.

But once you travel, it's not something you give up easily.

As Christine Delise, a spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, puts it: "Maybe it means giving up Starbucks or eating on the cheap for a week. People are going to make sacrifices -- but what they are not going to sacrifice is their summer vacation."

In celebration of the summer vacation season that officially starts this weekend, here are 20 tips to help you recession-proof your holiday.



Cruise lines, airlines, hotels and travel companies are constantly offering deals at the last minute when inventory doesn't sell out. Sometimes, they will bundle them into nicely priced packages that include, for example, air and hotel. Sign up for e-mail alerts from your preferred service providers or check out Web sites like Orbitz, TravelZoo, Cruise Critic and Budget Travel.



Consider cruising instead of flying. It's often cheaper, especially in Europe right now with the weak dollar. How much cheaper? This one I've tested firsthand. Last fall, my husband and I took a round-trip five-night cruise from Baltimore to Bermuda for $1,557; compare that with $1,086 we spent on airfare for a two-night respite a few months earlier. And the latter, of course, didn't include lodging, meals or entertainment. You do the math. (A cautionary note: If you book a European-based ship, the fare is paid in U.S. dollars, but onboard expenses are tallied in euros, which can add a ding to the wallet.)

3. Give credit its due

Use your credit card to maximum advantage. When we're in the U.S., we use Southwest's VISA card to get free tickets on the airline we use most often domestically. When we're overseas, we switch to our Capital One card because it is one of the few that doesn't charge an international transaction fee, typically two to five percent of the amount of the purchase.

4. Look after you book

Even if you've booked a hotel or car rental in advance, keep shopping. Erik Torkells, editor of Budget Travel and Girlfriend Getaways magazines, reserved a car in Raleigh, N.C., recently and when he checked prices a week before his trip, he discovered that the rental cost was $25 less per day.

"Same car, same company," he says.

Rental car companies don't require a deposit, so he canceled his first reservation and made another at the lower price. Depending on fees and penalties, the strategy can also work with hotels and airfare.

5. Feel the heat

For summer getaways, check out hot destinations like Florida, the Arizona desert and the Caribbean, which offer off-season deals this time of year.

6. Be loyal guests

Always join hotel loyalty programs. At Omni Hotels, just for being a member, you get a free breakfast beverage delivered to your room. As Torkells notes: "So many now give you free stuff or you get express check-in. I stayed at a Wyndham recently and got Peanut M&Ms and a half-bottle of red wine. I was in heaven."

7. Ask for extras

When it comes to travel, Torkells says it's a "negotiator's economy." That's especially true if you're traveling as a group, which comes with its own purchasing power. "People like perks," he says. Instead of angling for a cheaper hotel rate, ask for free parking, a complimentary round of drinks, tennis court privileges or an extra room that can be used as social central.

8. Rent, don't reserve

Check out house or apartment rentals, especially in Europe. They're often less expensive than hotels, particularly if it's a group travel situation. Homeaway.com is a good place to start. It has worldwide listings ranging from a villa in Honolulu to a farmhouse in Tuscany to a beachfront home in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla. The site also has a "special offers" tab. One recent deal: for $995 a week, a two-bedroom waterfront cottage that sleeps five on an island off of Maine.

9. Reposition your trip

Consider a repositioning cruise. Not familiar with them? Ships "reposition" when they are moved, for instance, from Alaska to the Mexican Riviera or from the Caribbean to Europe. Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of cruisecritic.com, calls them the "cheapest best deal in cruising." A 14-night trip can cost as little as $499. Possible downsides: few entertainment options and as many as seven consecutive days at sea. "It's not for everyone," Spencer Brown cautions. Repositioning cruises occur in the spring and fall so it might be worth bumping your summer vacation into the fall months.

10. Go with the crowd

If you're determined to cruise this summer, consider traveling with family and friends. If you have a group that books at least eight cabins based on double occupancy, one passenger travels for free or the benefit can be spread around for the common good.

11. Ride the rails

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