27 tips for finding the top travel deals


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Planning a great vacation for a price you can afford can be a challenge. And as more people hit the roadways, railways and skyways post-pandemic, finding good deals may take a bit more detective work than usual.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a fun and affordable getaway with your family, friends or on your own this year. We’ve got tips and tricks that can help frugal travelers score deals on everything from flights to complete vacation packages.

Related: 25 ways to cut costs on a road trip

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How to find the best vacation deals

Here are 27 insider tricks and smart travel hacks that can help keep vacation costs in check.

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1. Using credit card rewards

If you’ve racked up a large amount of reward points on your credit card, you may be able to redeem them for free or reduced-price airfare, hotels, car rentals, cruises, dining and other travel expenses. Some credit cards also offer free trip cancellation insurance, auto rental insurance coverage and lost luggage insurance.

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2. Looking into local destinations

One surefire way to slash vacation costs is to take airfare out of the equation. You might want to consider taking a road trip to some not-too-distant destinations. For ideas on where to go and what route to take (along with local deals), you can check out AAA’s TripTik.

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3. Going where the dollar is strong

If you travel to a country where the U.S. dollar is strong, your money will go farther than it would at home or in a country where U.S. currency is weak. Before booking travel, you may want to check out X-Rates’ currency exchange table to find out how the U.S. dollar is stacking up to other currencies.

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4. Traveling during ‘dead zones’

There are two times of the year, the so-called “dead zones,” when travel tends to be cheapest: Early December (after the Thanksgiving rush but before the Christmas travel season) and the last three weeks in January into early February.

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5. Being flexible with your destination

If price rather than a place is the prime concern, you may want to use a destination search engine like Skyscanner. You can plug in your origin and some potential travel dates and then see flight prices for destinations across the country as well as around the world.

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6. Getting a vacation package

Buying a vacation as a package rather than booking your flight, hotel and rental car separately can often yield significant savings. It’s a good idea, however, to keep an eye out for resort fees and airline baggage fees, which aren’t always included in the package price. A few places to find travel packages include Expedia, Priceline, Kayak and Costco Travel.

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7. Comparing Airbnb and hotel prices

Before booking a hotel, you may want to do a quick search on Airbnb and other short-term home rental sites. Even if you’re only staying a few nights, a rental could end up being cheaper than a hotel room. It may also come with a kitchen, which can help you save on dining as well.

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8. Signing up for fare alerts

Rather than checking airfares every day (or every hour) looking for them to come down, you may want to set up a fare alert for one or more destinations and dates at a travel site like Google Flights or Kayak. You’ll receive an email (or notification on an app) when the price of the flight changes.

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9. Booking on the right day

The day you book your flight typically doesn’t make a huge difference in price. But surveys show that if you’re booking at least three weeks in advance, you may be able to save some money by buying your airfare on a Tuesday. If you’re booking last-minute, however, you may get your best price by snagging your tickets on a Sunday.

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10. Not booking too far in advance

The lowest prices on domestic flights are typically available about 45 days in advance of departure. For international flights, you may want to book about 75 days out to get the cheapest flight.

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11. Eating like the locals

Tourist traps like well-known restaurants can end up being expensive – and crowded. Instead, you may want to chat up some locals and ask for their restaurant recommendations. Another fun and affordable option is to hit the farmer’s market, pick up some locally grown or sourced ingredients and then cook a meal at your rental.

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12. Opting to stay with friends

Staying with friends can be a great way to save money on vacation. You can end up saving not just on lodging, but also laundry, meals and transportation with the help of your friends. Of course, you’ll likely want to pitch in and chip in any way that you can to show your appreciation.

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13. Paying with a credit card overseas

One easy way to save when you’re vacationing abroad is to use a credit card for most or all of your spending, preferably one that avoids foreign transaction fees. Credit cards typically give you the best exchange rate of the day. Plus, you may be able to rack up rewards and also get fraud protection.

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14. Looking beyond tourist attractions

Just because a destination is known for a certain attraction doesn’t mean you have to go there. You can often get to know a place just as well or even better by going on a free or low-cost walking tour or by checking out the local parks, neighborhoods and cafes on your own.

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15. Checking out public transportation

While hopping into an Uber or taxi can be convenient, the cost of these trips can add up quickly. You may want to Google the public transportation options before calling a cab. They may be just as, or even more, convenient.

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16. Flying at odd times

You can often get a good deal on a flight by going when no one else wants to, such as early mornings and late nights. The cheapest days to fly tend to be Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturday (afternoons), Thanksgiving and the eves and days of Christmas and New Year’s.

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17. Contacting the hotel directly

Hotel price aggregator websites may not always have the lowest prices. It can be worth contacting the hotel directly and getting a quote. Even if the price listed on a travel site is lower, you may be able to get the hotel to match it. Booking directly could be better because the hotel’s cancellation policy might be more flexible.

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18. Using Groupon

Groupon can be a good place to check for deals on hotels and resorts in popular destinations. The site can also be useful for finding discounts on local activities and dining that you can use once you get to your destination.

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19. Trying a travel auction site

At travel auction websites, such as SkyAuction.com, companies will list hotels, flights or packages, and then travelers can bid on them. It can be a good idea to understand what fees will be additional (and not included in the auction price) before you bid.

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20. Checking Into senior discounts

Even if you’re under 65, you may qualify for a senior discount. Some airlines, hotels and rental car companies offer discounts to adults age 55 and over, and a few offer senior prices to anyone over 50.

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21. Researching student discounts

If you’re a student, carrying your student ID and asking if you can get a student discount can pay off. You may also want to check out StudentUniverse, which offers exclusive deals on flights, hotels and tours to students and adults under age 26.

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22. Consider going on a cruise

Depending on the cruise line and destination, going on a cruise could end up being cheaper than paying for a flight and hotel accommodation in the Caribbean or other beach destinations. To find deals and current promos, you may want to sign up for e-letters from the major cruise lines.

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23. Adding items to the cart (but not buying)

Sometimes travelers can snag deals by adding an item to their cart but not going through with the purchase. This shows the merchant that you’re interested in making a purchase but may need some persuasion to actually go through with it. The merchant may then send you a coupon in order to get you to buy.

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24. Signing up for loyalty programs

If you travel frequently, being loyal to one particular airline, hotel chain or rental car company (and signing up for their loyalty programs) can pay off. You may be able to rack up enough points or miles to get discounts and freebies on future travel.

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25. Avoiding baggage fees

These days airline tickets often do not include the cost of checking a bag. To keep baggage fees down, you may want to see if you can get away with just a carry-on. Other ways to minimize baggage fees include signing up for the airline’s loyalty or “frequent flyer” program, getting an airline-branded credit card and weighing your bags before you leave home (to avoid excess weight charges).

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26. Finding a flight with a layover

You may be able to visit an additional destination for free or a minimal additional cost by booking a flight with a 24 hour-plus layover. A number of international airlines offer a free stopover within their home country when you are en route to another country.

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27. Fighting back against resort fees

Some hotels will tack resort fees onto your bill that you weren’t expecting, which can significantly inflate your bill. You may be able to get these fees removed if you are a rewards member with the hotel or if there were any problems with your stay. To make sure you have time to negotiate, you may want to ask for a copy of your final bill the night before you check out.

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The takeaway

Pent-up demand for travel can make reservations – and deals – a little harder to come by these days.

But by doing a little bit of extra research, signing up for travel alerts and being flexible on where and when you want to go, you may still be able to score great prices on airfare, hotels, rental cars, cruises and more.

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