This post may contain affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, you won’t pay a penny more, but we will receive a small commission. Read our full disclosure.
Summer is right around the corner and with that usually comes the desire to travel. If you’re planning a summer vacation for your family, you’re probably looking for ways to save some money on flights, hotels, and activities. I’m sharing my top tips for traveling as a family on a budget.
Since our goal up until recently was to be totally debt free, we have never taken a big family vacation. We never had the cash to put down on a bigger vacation, and we didn’t want to put it on a credit card. Now, almost 10 years into marriage and finally debt free, we’re getting ready for our first big summer family vacation.
I’ve been scouring the Internet for all of the best deals, and I’m sharing them here today. With careful planning and a little bit of research, you can can save hundreds (maybe even thousands) on your vacation!
Success! Check your inbox!
The Best Days to Fly
As a general rule, you want to avoid traveling during peak times like holidays and weekends. We have found that rates are lowest when we are willing to travel on a weekday. If you want to find the definitive cheapest day to travel, I recommend using the Skyscanner site or app.
To use the Skyscanner website for finding the cheapest travel days, you can follow these steps:
- Enter your departure and arrival city in the search bar
- Select “one-way” regardless of whether or not you’re going round-trip or not
- Click “Depart” and select “Whole Month” rather than a specific date
- Click “Cheapest Month” so you can look through all of the dates and their prices
- Click “Search Flights” to easily view the cheapest dates
If your dates are not as flexible, you can check multiple flight search engines for the best rates. Here are some great sites to start with:
- Skyscanner- Generally has the best prices (not all of the time, but a lot of the time). You can also download the app
- Kiwi.com- Allows you to combine airlines so you’re not just flying on one airline. Can improve the price.
- Google Flights- Not generally the best price but allows you to easily compare flight dates
- AirWander- Let’s you extend layovers into stopovers
Have you ever noticed that you’ll search for flights on a travel site (ie Expedia) only to do the same search a few minutes or hours later and it’s suddenly more expensive? You’re not going crazy. Based on the cookies in your browser, flight prices will actually increase when a flight route is repeatedly searched. It’s a tactic by airlines to scare you into booking your flight before the prices rise even hire.
One way to avoid this is to keep your searches secret. Here’s how you enable this:
- For Google Chrome or Safari: hit Command (or Control if you’re using a PC), shift, “N.”
- For Mozilla Firefox or Internet Explorer: hit Command (or Control if you’re using a PC), shift, “P.”
- Older version of OS X: open Safari and click “Safari” in the menu bar, select “Private Browsing.”
Enabling this will open a new browser window where your information is not tracked and prices won’t be increased. Each time you re-open an incognito window your cookies are reset, so you will never be remembered by sites for inflated prices. You do need to close your window after each search and open a new one to clear your cookies.
How to Find the Cheapest Rental Car Options
If you are going to need a rental car for your vacation, there are few ways to make sure you get the best rental car deal.
- Avoid renting a car at the airport since they tend to charge more for convenience. Search for rental car locations away from the airport. Most airports will offer a free shuttle, or you can take an Uber to the rental car location.
- Look for membership discounts through AAA or Costco if you have an existing membership.
- Bundle your rental car with your flight and/or hotel stay.
On a side note, you can usually rent car seats from car rental companies, but I would highly recommend talking to the location prior to your arrival to make sure they have the type of car seats you are going to need. I ran into a problem once before where I arrived and they did not have the appropriate car seat for one of my kid’s age and size. We had to go on a hunt with other car rental companies, and it was a huge headache.
How to Find Deals on Lodging
According to Statista, as of February 2019, the average daily rate of hotels in the United States is $128.94. That rate is up $2 from last year, and the rates continue to climb.
Over the years, we have enjoyed overnight trips away from home and short weekend getaways close to home. We’ve had the benefit of in living in Durango, CO and Orange County, CA where we can act like we’re on vacation even though we’re close to home!
We always try to get the price as low as possible, but there are two things that can make a vacation more pleasant and budget-friendly overall:
- A Kitchen- having a kitchen where you stay can save you so much money. As a family of 5, we can easily spend over $100 on a meal out, particularly in vacation destinations where food prices are higher. Being able to prepare food where we are lodging saves us from eating every single meal and snack out.
- Laundry- This is something I think only a mother can truly appreciate, but I love having laundry on site when possible. You can pack less, which saves on baggage fees, and you can go home with clean clothes.
So there are some tricks and apps we use to ensure that we get the best lodging possible within our budget.
Airbnb is a vacation rental app that allows you to search based on date, city, rental type, and number of guests.
To get the best price, I recommend finding the rental that you want and reaching out to the owner directly to negotiate their rate. You can do this by clicking “Message host” and putting in the dates you want to stay. Click “Request to book” and you’ll most likely be approved to stay but won’t have to enter your payment yet.
This is where I recommend reaching out to the homeowner to negotiate their rate. It doesn’t always work, especially during peak travel season, but a homeowner has the option to send you a “special offer.”
Be sure to check for weekly and monthly discounts as well. A 7-night stay may end up costing LESS than a 6-night stay if the homeowner offers a weekly discount!
VRBO is another great site for finding vacation rentals. You can cross check what you find on AirBNB to see if it is less expensive on VRBO. VRBO tends to be a bit more professional than Airbnb since it started out as a site for corporate rentals for traveling employees.
You can also find VRBO on ebates to receive cash back on your stay. If you don’t have an ebates account yet, get one! It’s free to sign up, and you’ll receive $10 cash back when you spend your first $25 through ebates.
For Last Minute Booking
If you’re like us and decide at the last minute that you want to do a mini-getaway, there are two sites that I recommend looking into.
HotelTonight gives you last-minute discounts on empty hotel rooms. It’s easy to use and doesn’t take long to reserve a room. They have 24/7 customer support, which is particularly nice if you’re stuck somewhere and need a room last minute.
One:Night is another last-minute hotel-booking app, which lists its same-day offers starting at 3 p.m. It offers rooms at properties in 10 U.S. cities, as well as a few international locations. The apps is easy to use and includes a lot of pictures.
Other Tips to Save
1. Strategically Use Your Credit Card Points- I only recommend doing this if you have the discipline to use your credit card and then pay it off immediately. This way you can capitalize on credit card points without racking up a huge credit card bill. We have been able to cash in credit card points for flights to visit family.
2. Use Ebates “Travel & Vacation” tab to plan your vacation. Not every airline, hotel, etc is listed on ebates, but you can receive cash back on your vacation if you use one of the listed companies. You can find:
- Car rentals
- Hotels & Lodging
- Vacation packages
3. Go through Costco Travel to plan your vacation.You have to be a Costco member, but you can find some surprisingly good deals. I have found:
- Vacation Packages
- Rental Cars
- Theme Parks & Specialty- this is a great place to start if you’re planning a Disney vacation
4. Use a Travel Agent- Using a travel agent doesn’t cost you anything but could save you thousands. Travel agents often have access to deals that you wouldn’t be able to find online on your own.
I’m always on the hunt for better deals, so let me know if you have found any other travel sites that save you money!
Resources I Love
Ebates: Ebates is a total no-brainer for saving money when shopping online. Every time you shop online, click on a store through Ebates to receive cash back on all of your purchases. Get $10 after your first $25 purchase when you use my link.
Ibotta: Ibotta is my favorite app for saving money on groceries without clipping coupons. Get cash back on your groceries just by uploading your receipts. Get $5 just for signing up when you click on my link.