This post is written by Craig Ford, writer at Money Help for Christians.
It’s definitely not too early to start planning your next family vacation, but the only danger is that it’s going to be really hard to trudge through the next few months of work before getting to kick back for an enjoyable summer vacation.
While I’m all for summer vacations, I have this little personal mission in life. I want to be the person who does the exact same thing as everyone else, but I want to do those things without paying the same price as others.
For example, if I’m going to be spending the night in a hotel, I want to have the room that costs $50 per night while the person in the next room is paying $129. It just makes vacationing more enjoyable knowing that I’m not spending a lot of money.
Today, I’ll pass along some of the things I’ve learned trying to master the art of cheap (and even free) travel.
7 Tips for Saving Money on Your Family Vacation by Air
1. Know your vacation style. While I’m all for saving money on vacations, a vacation isn’t a vacation unless it is relaxing to you. In order to help you plan your vacation strategy, you need to know where you’re happy to cut corners and where you won’t skimp pennies. As an example, my wife and I have concluded that eating out, while a nice perk, doesn’t make the vacation for us. When we look back at vacations gone by, we rarely talk about what we ate. Thus, our strategy includes trying to minimize the cost of food on vacation. However, when we are able to get two hotel rooms (or a condo) for our family, we love having some space to ourselves.
2. Use opaque booking sites (like Priceline or Hotwire) for hotels. Both of these sites allow you to book a hotel by knowing the location and the style of hotel without initially knowing the actual name or exact hotel brand. In exchange for this lack of information, you can book hotels up to 50% off. Learn how to get the best price between Hotwire and Priceline.
3. Earn miles and points by getting credit card bonuses. If you have a decent credit score and avoid credit card debt, you can earn lots of mostly free travel by signing up for credit cards . Over the last year, my wife and I have each collected over 200,000 air miles, $1,000 worth of travel spending, and 2 roundtrips flights in the US – each. It took us 5 credit card applications to get all those points, rewards, and miles. Right now you can even get 100,000 miles for a British Airways Visa. If you’re not familiar with the concept of getting mostly free travel, you can get more information from the Travel Free Coach (yes, that’s me!).
4. Be flexible. If you are flexible and willing to go almost anywhere, you can check out AirfareWatchDog.com. All you need to do is enter your home city, and this website will show you the prices to a bunch of possible destinations. Also, if you subscribe to airline emails, you’ll find some great last minute fares to some really nice destinations.
5. Think about meal times when flying. You might laugh at this, unless you have a large(r) family. If you’re going to fly out at 1 p.m., there’s a good chance you’ll need to pick up something for lunch at the airport. Even a small meal can easily run a family $30-$50. I used to recommend that people take a lunch with them, but when you’re trying to get yourself and three kids through security, you need all the open hands you can get. Instead, find flight times that avoid mealtimes.
6. Book early or book late. The best deals can often be found 3-6 months in advance or less than 3 weeks in advance. In my case, I’d rather know we have everything booked because I’d get anxious a few weeks before if we still didn’t have all the booking in place. If you book through Southwest you can always change your flights without an extra cost.
7. Capitalize on the extra bonuses. Be sure to book your vacation on a cash back website like Ebates to get a few extra percentages cash back on your travel. Additionally, be sure you have the best miles credit card too so you can get bonus miles towards your next trip.
8. Plan for baggage – The cost of baggage for a family vacation can easily add up to several hundred dollars. The two best ways around the cost of baggage (short of only taking carry-ons) is booking on Southwest Airlines (no baggage fees) or having an airline branded credit card that allows free baggage. As an example, the Delta American Express lets you check bags for free.
What do you do to save money when you fly on your family vacations?
Be sure to visit Money Help for Christians where Craig promotes a frugal, simple, debt-free, and generous lifestyle so Christians can faithfully maximize their resources by putting them at the disposal of God’s Kingdom.