Save big enjoying your getaway vacation
With hotel prices and airfares up two to seven percent this summer, you want to save. Start by scheduling your travel mid-July through August, when prices are expected to relax.
Then, follow the advice of Consumer Reports’ globe-trotting, penny pinching editors, engineers, accountants, and other staff for getting there cheaply. This report explains how to save time and money at your vacation destination.
1. Try HotelTonight
Every day at noon in the city you’re visiting, this iPhone and Android app sends you deep-discount last-minute deals for a selection of hotels. See one you like? Book it and pay using your stored credit card with a single click. One staffer saved about 30 percent on a Miami hotel that way and says he would use the app again, even though the room in his chosen price category was not as nice as he expected. He says he’ll search for a higher-quality room next time.
2. Book a condo, house, or apartment
People all over the world own vacation homes that they rent to other travelers. When our Web editor visits family in Maui, she stays at a beach-access condo for less than what hotels in the area charge. One of our senior researchers rented a spacious house in Montreal with a rooftop deck and cut costs by eating most meals at her home away from home. She has rented condos in beach locales, too, where savings come from avoiding resort fees and amenities charges. Be sure to research the neighborhood and user ratings. Start with a Google search of “vacation rentals” for your destination to find local brokers, such as annamaria.com (Florida) and BermudaRentals.com, Flipkey.com, HomeAway.com, and Vrbo.com are worthwhile general home-rental sites.
3. Sign up for a loyalty program
Even if you didn’t do so before booking, join the hotel’s preferred guest loyalty program when you register. Our records and legal services manager joined the Starwood Preferred Guest program on a stay in Chicago and got a coupon for $35 worth of in-room service, free Wi-Fi for the entire stay, and two bottled waters from the mini fridge—for a total of $103 in savings.
4. Find last-minute deals online
Using Hotels.com, a ShopSmart editor spent only $85 a night for three nights at the Helix, a Kimpton Hotel in Washington, D.C., for a $600 savings. Extra amenities included free Wii games for the kids, a daily happy hour with free drinks for grown-ups, and free bike usage around town for everyone. Because the hotel was just outside the tourist zone, they found lower restaurant prices.
5. Use rewards points
Credit-card loyalty points can be spent on lodging as well as on airline tickets. One of our editors cashed in 68,000 American Express rewards points and saved $1,000 at the posh Navona Palace in Rome. She and her boyfriend had a memorable time falling in love with the city—and each other—all over again.
6. Swap homes
You can save most of your lodging costs by trading your home for the home of a friend, co-worker, or stranger in your vacation destination. Two editors supercharged their travel budgets this way by switching homes for extended stays on the East and West coasts. The more desirable the location of your home, the more options you’ll have. The editor of this newsletter exchanged her New York City apartment for a two-bedroom, two-bath, ski-on-and-off condo in Steamboat Springs, Colo. Find swap options on Homelink.org and HomeExchange.com, and check Craigslist for your destination city.
7. Don’t forget hostels
Those budget-oriented accommodations rent you a bed (maybe a bunk bed) in more of a dormitory setting (though private rooms may also be available), with shared bathrooms, lounges, and other common areas. Our editors recommend them as a great way to meet and socialize with other footloose and fancy-free spirits. Search-and-book sites include HlHostels.com (a membership organization with varying membership fees), Hostelworld.com, and Hostelz.com.
8. Shop on Hotwire.com and Priceline.com
Our Tightwad Tod columnist swears by them for booking rental cars and hotels. He has easily saved half the cost of both—or more. Recently in Charlotte, N.C., he got a one-day Hertz rental for about $40 on Priceline.com vs. about $140 with an AAA, Hertz, or USAir discount. The method: He always submits low-ball bids, ignores warnings that they’re unlikely to be accepted, and keeps bidding but changes the deal parameters slightly each time. He finally got a pop-up screen suggesting that if he bid an additional $10, he’d get that rate guaranteed. It worked.
9. Don’t rent extras
One staff member says choosing a child safety seat from a car-rental agency can cost $10 to $13 a day, so he brings his own, and many airlines let you check it free. Other staff members use navigation apps on their smart phones instead of renting a GPS device, a savings of at least $12 a day.
10. Grocery shop, as usual
Rent rooms with at least a refrigerator and microwave, and ideally a kitchenette or full kitchen, so you can buy groceries and eat breakfast in your room and make and pack sandwiches for lunch. One of our researchers saves $20 to $40 a day when traveling with her kids in Cape May, N.J.
11. Go back to college
Just for the meal. One of our editors recommends dining out in neighborhoods surrounding big universities, such as Columbia in New York City, where the food is priced for student budgets, the choice of ethnic cuisines and fit-for-foodies establishments is broad, and the hip, youthful vibe rejuvenates every age.
This article also appeared in the June 2013 issue of Consumer Reports Money Adviser.
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