Summer has officially started and travel season is here. If you haven't planned your vacation yet, it's not too late to save on a last-minute getaway.
About 7 in 10 Americans expect to spend on travel this summer, according to a new survey from CNBC + Acorns that polled more than 2,800 adults. For 45% of travelers, the plan is a road trip, while 21% will fly somewhere in the U.S. and another 9% will head abroad.
Summer may be high season for travel, but that doesn't mean you have to pay high prices. Consider these budget-friendly travel tips before you book.
If you have some wiggle room when it comes to travel dates and destinations, you're more likely to score a good deal. Start by setting a cap on the amount you want to spend to stay within budget, then check out the "deals" section of travel sites like Expedia, Kayak, and Orbitz, where you may find a cheap flight mere weeks, or even days, away.
If you want to save time and money on flights, "set up [email and mobile] alerts, and start monitoring," says Victoria Walker, a reporter for The Points Guy. That way, you can keep an eye on up-to-the-minute price changes. Apps and travel websites allow you to monitor multiple flights simultaneously, and some, like Google Flights, can even display flights leaving from multiple airports to help you find the cheapest option.
Before you book, consider how the day of the week that you're looking affects the prices you see. In 2018, tickets booked on Sundays offered the cheapest prices on average, at $580 round-trip, according to Skyscanner, a site that analyzes flight booking data for destinations around the world.
While basic economy flights might seem like the most budget-friendly option, a cheap base fare may not save you in the long run, says Walker: "What [airlines] are doing is essentially unbundling your fare to give you a 'no-frills' product." Some of those "frills," like checked baggage, are actually necessary, particularly if you're traveling with children or for an extended vacation.
Having to pay extra for everything from advanced seat assignments to luggage, which can cost upwards of $30 per bag, can stretch your budget before your vacation even starts.
If you fly at a certain more elite level or have certain credit cards, like Delta SkyMiles, for instance, you may get certain fees waived on checked baggage and more, reports The Points Guy. To avoid hidden costs, see if you're entitled to any freebies, like checked strollers or car seats. Then add up overall costs, including baggage fees, taxes, and refund penalties, when comparing flights. That way, you'll be paying for the things that matter most to you, whether that's leg room or a flexible ticket.
If you use a credit card, you may have more points or miles accumulated than you realize. Groceries, gas, and other travel costs like Uber rides can, in many cases, be converted to points, which add up to airline miles. You can also use this strategy to plan ahead: "You'd be surprised at how much money you can save by putting purchases that you already have to make on a credit card [to] maximize those points," says Walker.
Just remember to use your credit card responsibly, paying off your balance in full and on time, so that it doesn't cost you more in the long run.
You may also consider opening a card that offers a welcome bonus to help you save on travel—as long as you bear in mind the costs. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card, for instance, offers 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months once you've opened an account. In their system, that converts to $750 toward airfare, hotels, car rentals, and cruises.
The card has a $95 annual fee, though it's waived the first year. Before opening this or any card to get the bonus, factor in your travel goals and overall budget to see if it's worth the interest rate and annual fee down the line.
You can also save by using points from loyalty programs, which are awarded to customers who consistently shop at the same business or brand and can be converted into discounts, freebies, or special customer treatment.
Karen Akpan, a 30-year-old living in Los Angeles who chronicles her travels on her blog, The Mom Trotter, says that Hilton Hotels loyalty points helped her book a low-cost trip to Europe for six people: "SAS Airlines had a kids fly free deal with an adult. I purchased two adult tickets and was able to get four kids tickets for the [price of] taxes and fees only. We stayed at the Hilton in Stockholm, which was paid with points from my Hilton credit card."
If you have a car, now is a great time to avoid planes altogether and consider a road trip instead: "Gas prices are, on average, 17 cents cheaper than Memorial Day weekend, which is welcome news for motorists hitting the road to celebrate the July Fourth holiday," says Jeanette Casselano, an AAA gas price expert. Gas prices are poised to continue dropping in coming weeks, she adds.
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(Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.)