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Published: Jun 25, 2024 7 min read
Photo collage of a woman with a luggage standing on a giant passport on top of sand with an airplane in the background
Vanessa Garcia / Money; Getty Images

Inflation may be cooling, but taking a summer trip can still feel like a big swing financially. A recent Washington State University survey found that a whopping 96% of Americans say that current (or rising) prices will impact their travel plans, potentially affecting everything from destinations to activities.

To help you navigate it all, Money asked experts to share their top tips for saving money on summer travel. We found their suggestions all followed a major theme: It's crucial to not follow the crowd, both literally and figuratively.

Here are five ways to be frugal while still pulling off the vacation of your dreams:

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1. Determine your travel priorities

Lindsay Kowalski, the owner of LK Travel Group, a Virtuoso member as an affiliate of Jetset World Travel, says the first step should be to determine what you care about most.

Is the most important part of your trip staying in a nice hotel? It might not be financially feasible for you to spend every night of a two-week Europe trip in five-star accommodations, she says, but knowing your priorities in advance can help you plan accordingly. For instance, maybe you stick to budget hotels for most of the vacation and blow it out at a Four Seasons for the last three nights.

Or do you care more about scoring a super-cheap flight? Although many travelers want to “get out of the country and experience something completely new,” Laura Lindsay, global travel trends expert at Skyscanner, points out that domestic airfares are dropping from 2023. If inexpensive flights are your top concern, maybe skip the overseas jaunt this year and check out a U.S. beach town or national park to cut down on costs.

2. Buck the trend(s)

It’s no secret that Europe is a (literally) hot destination for Americans in the summer. That’s especially true this year, which will see Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour hit major cities in England, Germany and Italy as well as the Summer Olympics, set to take over Paris from July 26 through Aug. 11.

“Where everyone else is going, the hotels and airlines are aware, and they will rate their pricing accordingly,” says Samantha Collum, director of operations at River Oaks Travel, another Virtuoso member agency.

To save money, do the opposite of what everyone else is doing. Some top ski resorts in the U.S., for example, offer lower prices during the summer because they’re not in their peak season (winter). And there’s no shortage of activities: The mountains are beautiful, the hiking is good, et cetera.

If your heart is set on a particular location, Kowalski recommends looking at alternative, under-the-radar countries and cities that are nearby. Last year, she spent time in Slovenia, which has a lot of Italian culture but is much less costly than, say, tourist-heavy Rome.

Lindsay says spots like Split, Croatia; Zurich, Switzerland; and Nassau, Bahamas; have all seen price drops lately.

3. Book flights ASAP

Plan carefully, but do it fast.

“It’s generally best to book sooner rather than later,” Lindsay says. “Especially if you’re looking to catch a flight during one of the many holiday weekends this summer, you should start planning now before you miss out on the best deals.”

Money previously reported on “Goldilocks Windows,” or booking periods that are both not too early and also not too late. These typically fall one to three months before a domestic trip and two to eight months before an international trip, though summer tends to bring such high demand that it's smart to lock in flights even earlier than that.

FYI: According to Skyscanner data and flight price history, Tuesday is the best day to book, given that most airlines launch discounts on Monday nights. You may be able to save somewhere between 15% and 25%.

4. Be flexible with travel dates

Speaking of dates, one of the best ways to save money on summer travel is to play with timing. Kowalski says that many hotels have peak rates Thursday through Sunday, so if you can aim for the middle of the week, you may find a bargain.

“If you have any sort of flexibility in travel dates, that can work wonders,” Collum adds.

There’s no consensus on which day, specifically, is the cheapest to fly. But if you’re looking for a starting place, Hopper has long claimed the most inexpensive day to fly out domestically is Wednesday, and the cheapest to return is Tuesday. In 2022, Google determined that, on average, flights that depart on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were 12% cheaper than weekend departures.

5. Use your resources

Kowalski, who acknowledges she’s biased, emphasizes that travel advisors aren’t just booking agents — armed with years of experience, “they're advising you on where to spend your money.” Another plus: Travel advisors often have partnerships with hotels that can unlock better rates and cool amenities like free breakfast or spa credits.

While you certainly can book trips on your own using research from TikTok, you might want to loop in a travel advisor to make sure you’re hitting the right spots and getting the most bang for your buck.

Collum says sometimes, folks to come to her after buying flights to places like Mykonos and Santorini in Greece in March… when many hotels and beaches are closed. If they’d consulted her first, she could have stopped them from wasting their money.

Tapping other resources is important, too. Airline and hotel loyalty programs can help you access upgrades or free drinks. Websites like Skyscanner and Hotwire can help you comparison-shop for rental car reservations. And don’t forget to check whether you get benefits through any clubs or memberships you have, like AAA.

“Your personal car insurance, credit card benefits or even college alumni association might be a sleeping giant of hidden savings,” Lindsay says.

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