12 Tips to Save on and Survive Travel this Summer, 2023
If you’re planning to travel this summer, you may be feeling the pain of sticker shock — prices seem exorbitant for just about everything, including hotels, airfare, vacation rentals, car rentals, train tickets … and the list goes on.
While it’s true that you might have to spend just a little bit more to have that much-needed summer vacation, there are ways you can save money on summer travel, from dipping into that hard-earned points stash and getting a credit card that offers car rental elite status to staying flexible with dates and being open to alternative destinations.
Here are 12 ways to save money on summer travel so that you can enjoy a fabulous summer vacation without breaking the bank (and while surviving the busy summer travel season).
1. Be Flexible with Dates, Shift Your Dates Earlier
This can mean many, many things when it comes to summer travel. We know sometimes it’s near impossible to avoid traveling when you have that Fourth of July family reunion, Memorial Day destination wedding, or have to follow the kids’ summer break schedules, but if you can, consider trying to take advantage of the very early, or even pre-summer shoulder season. According to data from Expedia, airfare tends to stabilize in the period after spring break but before summer travel really kicks off. If you’re able to shift your trip to early May instead of mid-July, you could save a significant amount on travel costs.
Stay Open to Traveling on Different Dates
Beyond shifting your summer travel earlier, simply being flexible with dates may make some difference. For no apparent reason at all, hotel dates or flights may be cheaper on one June date than another, or staying an extra few days in your destination may mean that a return flight is much cheaper. Try searching for flexible dates when looking for airfare, hotel, and car rental to really see what you can find.
2. Consider Off-peak Season Abroad, Europe
Most kids are still in school in June in Europe, and many cities in Southern Europe are all but deserted in August when extreme heat means most locals are at the beach. So you might actually find that visiting a city like Paris or Rome in the heart of the European summer isn’t as expensive as you might think — just be prepared for hot weather.
Off-peak award dates may vary on international airlines, too. For example, the first 3 weeks of June are mostly considered off-peak on Iberia, where kids remain in school until nearly the end of the month. This means if you plan a trip to Spain during the first 3 weeks of June, you’ll likely be able to get off-peak award rates during this time. Alternatively, a trip to Ireland would be ideal in September, when Aer Lingus’ off-peak dates run from September 4 to 30.
The Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico
It’s true that Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30. However, according to the National Hurricane Center, most cyclonic activity occurs between mid-August and mid-October, with the most popular date for a hurricane being September 10.
What does this mean for summer travelers? You may be able to get more affordable pricing but avoid severe weather when traveling to these destinations in months like June or July. And don’t forget that some Caribbean islands sit outside the Atlantic hurricane belt and may actually be cheaper than that Michigan beach rental, like Aruba, Barbados, Bonaire, Curacao, Grenada, Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago to name a few. We recommend using a credit card with travel insurance to book your trip, though, because you never know when it comes to the weather.
Hot Tip: Learn more about the best ways to fly to the Caribbean with points and miles and the best Caribbean hotels to book with points in our detailed guides.
3. Be Open to Alternative Destinations
We already suggested some ideal destinations and times to visit Europe and the Caribbean, but it’s also important to select more affordable destinations. Yes, you’ll still get to those pricier spots like St. Barths, New York City, and London eventually, but this may be the summer to go rogue and instead visit less expensive spots like Athens, Budapest, Cartagena, Chicago, Málaga, Marrakesh, Mexico City, Porto, St. Louis, U.S. national parks, and beyond.
Go Where Your U.S. Dollars Go Further
Your money can stretch further in Sri Lanka. If you’re ready to really go far-flung but also save money, avoid trendy and expensive destinations like the Maldives or Hawaii. Instead, consider islands in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, or Thailand where your money stretches further.
The dollar and the euro are still hovering close to each other, meaning that this summer is the perfect time to go to Europe and see those dollars stretch even further. As we mentioned above, skip some of the trendiest and most popular destinations that tend to be expensive, like Paris and London. Instead, opt for affordable Eastern European countries or second cities in Mediterranean countries.
4. Take Advantage of Credit Card Perks
Yes, it’s true that many premium travel credit cards come with hefty annual fees. But in many cases, those fees are offset by perks and benefits that may actually mean you end up saving money.
Flexible Travel Rewards Cards for Statement Fees, Credits, Lounge Access, and More
Some of the most valuable rewards are offered on flexible travel rewards cards. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers a travel credit of up to $300, and The Platinum Card® from American Express offers statement credits and additional perks for booking The Hotel Collection and American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts properties.
Each of these cards also offers varying levels of lounge access at airports, too, which can save you money on food as well as make your airport experience a little less stressful.
Some flexible cards also give you perks like car rental and hotel elite status, discounts and time-sensitive credits for purchasing from specific travel vendors, and other useful travel perks.
Hot Tip: Don’t forget to check your Amex Offers, Chase Offers, Citi Merchant Offers, and/or Capital One Offers as these offers can save you money on flights, hotels, vacation rentals, and beyond.
Co-branded cards for Benefits at Airlines and Hotels
It’s also worth noting that many airline and hotel co-branded credit cards offer elite status or ways to earn points and miles that can get you to status or a companion pass faster. These cards often offer perks like a free checked bag, upgrades, and priority boarding — all things that can save you money and make your travel experience better.
5. Open a New Credit Card and Get a Welcome Bonus
If you really need a quick infusion of points to use for summer travel, open a new credit card now. Then, make sure to meet the spend threshold so you’ll earn those coveted bonus points in time to use them for a summer award redemption. Welcome bonuses ebb and flow, so you’ll obviously want to find a card with a high bonus. That being said, it’s also important to get a card with a points currency you’ll use. If you’re dying to visit a specific destination, but there aren’t any Hilton Hotels there, skip getting a Hilton co-branded card.
Doing some light research and having a general summer vacation plan in mind (or a few different options) can also help you narrow down the best card to get so you’ll be able to best utilize the bonus points or miles for your trip.
Hot Tip: Looking for a big introductory bonus? Read our article on the best sign-up bonuses so you can rake in those points and miles.
6. Use Your Points (And Get Creative)
There are 2 times when your points become the most valuable:
- When you desperately need them for an emergency or something last-minute
- When cash prices for hotels and airfare are high
This summer, with prices for flights and accommodation skyrocketing, is the ideal time to dip into your points stash. And you may want to get creative in doing so. While it can be easy to simply use your flexible reward points to book travel in credit card travel portals, you’ll obtain a much higher value from your points if you transfer them, which gives you endless opportunities to think outside the box when it comes to airlines, routes, hotels, and more.
If you have fixed points currencies, like Delta SkyMiles, remember to search awards on partner airlines, too, which can offer additional flexibility and options. Just don’t forget to factor in those taxes and fees, which can sometimes add a significant amount of money to an award redemption.
Hot Tip: Don’t throw in the towel if you can’t find your perfect redemption. Sometimes it takes some energy and time to figure out how to best utilize your points, but when you do, you can really save money.
7. Drive vs. Fly vs. Train
While we love a solid airfare award here at Upgraded Points, we do recognize there’s a time and a place for road trips and train trips, too.
If you’re heading somewhere and you’re not sure the best way to get there, do your research to see which option is the most cost-effective. Obviously, if you’re heading to Hawaii from Chicago, you’ll want to fly. But if you’re figuring out the best way to get from London to Paris or from New York to Boston, you do have more options, so it’s best to compare pricing and do your research before selecting transportation.
8. Consider Alternative Accommodation or Vacation Rentals
Opting for a vacation rental over a hotel can offer significant summer travel savings.
Vacation rentals can offer significant savings compared to hotels, especially when you factor in costs like cooking meals in your rental vs. eating out and having the ability to do laundry or park for free. Vacation rentals sometimes offer weekly or monthly discounts, and you may find that certain credit cards may give you statement credits for booking at certain vacation rental providers like Airbnb or Vrbo.
Thinking outside the box when it comes to accommodation may offer some truly unique and interesting experiences. Heading to Japan? Why not try a capsule hotel! Did you know you can stay at monasteries and agriturismos (farmstay B&Bs) in Italy on the cheap? And you don’t have to be a backpacker to take advantage of certain hostels in spots like Europe and Asia. Some of the hippest new accommodation brands are actually hostels, like the Generator brand, and hostels in countries like Portugal and Spain are often more like family-owned B&Bs, where each double room features a private bathroom and you can head downstairs for breakfast each morning.
Finally, if you feel comfortable letting guests stay in your own home, consider a home swap. You may end up with some seriously luxurious digs in expensive, coveted destinations — think a villa on the French Riviera or a beachfront apartment in Turks and Caicos, just because your Brooklyn studio or suburban yard seems exotic to others.
9. Book Flights at the Right Times, International Flights
You may want to start organizing your summer vacation right now, especially if you’re traveling abroad during peak periods. According to Nick Ellis, Editor and Content Contributor for Upgraded Points, “As the travel industry has recovered from the pandemic, summer-season travel to Europe has been especially hot, which means that demand (and prices) for tickets is high. If you’re able, we’d suggest booking flights several months in advance, as prices are unlikely to go down as you get closer to your departure.”
For those traveling around the U.S., data from Expedia suggests that the “sweet spot for snagging the best price on domestic flights falls between 28 – 35 days before departure – so about a month in advance of travel. Travelers that booked during that period saved 10% on average compared to those who waited until the last minute.” It’s worth monitoring flights and setting up alerts (for both cash prices and award availability) so that you’ll be notified of price drops.
Hot Tip: If you’re booking a trip that’s tied to a holiday weekend or isn’t at all flexible, like a wedding, it may be best to book sooner for peace of mind and the best deals. Expedia’s study also showed that booking flights on a Sunday versus a Friday can often save you between 5% to 15%.
10. Use the Right Credit Card Abroad
If you’re traveling outside of the U.S., make sure to use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. And avoid dynamic currency conversion by always paying in the local currency, versus U.S. dollars, when abroad so you won’t be charged additional fees beyond the exchange rate.
11. Fly Low-cost Carriers
I know the words Spirit and Ryanair can be terrifying for the average traveler, but you may end up saving significant amounts of money if you fly low-cost, especially if you don’t have a big stash of points and miles.
The most important thing to do when flying low-cost carriers is to read the fine print. This is especially important when it comes to extras like seat selection, checking bags, or even carry-on baggage. If you get an incredible deal but have to pay $90 to check your surfboard at the airport or $40 because your carry-on bag is an inch too wide, this will negate the savings you had in the first place.
Calculate the price of a low-cost carrier with all the bells and whistles you need included, then compare it to the price of a full-fare carrier before making any decisions.
12. Prepare for a Wild Summer Travel Adventure
Remember the hot mess that was summer travel in 2022? While we have high hopes for summer 2023, we won’t be surprised if things don’t quite go as planned. Here are some final tips to help you save money and avoid hassle when traveling this summer.
Summer travel, just like any travel, can go awry due to weather, short staffing, delays, and many other reasons. If your flight is canceled or delayed, it’ll make things a lot easier for you if you’ve booked direct. If you do prefer to book with an OTA, make sure it’s a reputable one, so you’ll get your money back if your trip is canceled.
Know Your Rights
Understanding your rights in the case of delays, cancellations, and other flight issues is important. The Department of Transportation is the best way to get information for U.S.-based airlines, but if your flight to/from Europe is delayed, you’ll want to read more about the EU 261 rules.
Get to the Airport Early
You may as well go into your summer vacation expecting delays and lines. Obviously, those aforementioned credit card benefits can help — we love a card that offers a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit — but it’s still a good plan to get to the airport early. If you miss your flight because the security line was too long, last-minute summer airfare will cost you a pretty penny.
Getting to the airport early this summer can help avoid lines and waits.
Skip Checking Bags
You may recall last summer’s “Global Lost Luggage Crisis.” This was when airlines around the world were basically tossing people’s luggage anywhere and everywhere. It may be a good plan to skip checking a bag this year, or at least pack thoughtfully to ensure you won’t end up in Cancún without a swimsuit or in the Alps without your hiking boots.
Some of us are heavy packers, and if you’re part of this category, you know change just isn’t possible. If you do need to check a bag, use an AirTag or other tracking device, which can help you locate the bag if the airline loses it.
Pad your Dates
We’re not trying to say the worst about summer travel, but if you have a really important event to get to, like a wedding or graduation, pad your dates, especially if your trip involves changing planes. This way, if you do have flight issues, you won’t miss your event, even if you have to fly out a day or 2 later than planned.
Summer travel is glorious, carefree, and perfect for making lifelong memories. Or, at least that’s how it should be, but high prices and crowded airports can sometimes put a damper on things. This season, follow these tips to ensure you’ll not only be able to afford to go on vacation but you’ll also have an easy and hassle-free travel experience.
Source: Lori Zaino-UpgradePoints
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