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TravelWays to save on your next family vacation

Ways to save on your next family vacation

Traveling with a family comes with some unavoidable expenses, whether you’re paying frfor airfare, food or activities. There are more people to cover, which drives up the cost no matter where you go, when you travel or what you do.

If you are strategic about planning and booking travel, you can have a great vacation and more money in your pocket.

Here are our top tips for saving money on family vacations.

Create a vacation fund in your savings account


Even if you have a stash of points and miles to pay for your trip, there will inevitably be something (like souvenirs and tips) that you’ll need additional money for. A vacation fund can come in handy when these situations arise.

Having a vacation fund in your savings account ensures you have plenty of money at the ready whenever you are traveling. You can automatically transfer money into the account every week and watch your funds incrementally accrue until you are ready to use them.

Then, when the time comes to pay credit card bills, you can use money from your vacation fund to cover purchases made while traveling. This helps keep your fun money separate from your day-to-day money and saves you from drastically altering your normal spending habits at home to prepare for a trip.

Related: Real-world family travel tips that actually work

Choose a hotel with free breakfast or other complimentary meals

A hotel with a complimentary breakfast can help you get more than just a free meal. That’s because you can also take time at the breakfast spread to grab a few yogurts, granola bars and pieces of fruit to snack on throughout the day.

A Homewood Suites complimentary breakfast. TANNER SAUNDERS/THE POINTS GUY

Also, hotels offering free breakfast, like Marriott’s SpringHill Suites, tend to offer larger guest rooms that accommodate more people — all for lower nightly rates than their luxury counterparts.

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While not all hotels offer free breakfast to everyone in your room, some may provide complimentary meals for kids. For example, kids 11 and younger eat free at all Holiday Inn hotels. Several properties, including the Andaz Costa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papagayo, offer complimentary meals for children younger than 5.

All-inclusive resorts that cover food and drinks in room rates are also growing in popularity; be sure to consider these types of properties when researching lodging, especially in places where they’re prevalent, such as the Caribbean and Mexico.

Book a vacation home and cook


One great way to explore a new destination with your family is to rent an apartment or house in a neighborhood rather than a busy downtown area. By doing this, you can get a ton of space for your family to run around, plus multiple bedrooms and a kitchen.

While renting a vacation home can sometimes be as expensive as staying in a hotel, you can help offset the cost by cooking your own meals instead of eating out.

There are also ways to earn or redeem loyalty points on home rentals, such as with Vrbo’s One Key program or Homes and Villas by Marriott.

Before confirming a stay, ask the host for the nearest market or grocery store, and make that your first stop after you arrive.

You can still treat yourselves to a few meals out here and there, but this allows you to trim your vacation food costs.

Related: When a vacation rental makes more sense than a hotel

Skip checking a bag — or choose your flights carefully when you need to


It is possible to stay on Team Carry-On, even when traveling as a family. Checking a bag as a family can mean spending $100 or more each way — or at least $30 per person — when flying, depending on how big your clan is.

You can use packing cubes for each member of your family to squeeze as much as possible into your carry-on bags. This helps keep your clothes compact and organized no matter where you go or how long you’re away from home.

Related: Tips to avoid overpacking

Before any trip, make sure you have everything you need by doing the following:

  • Pack one person at a time to avoid mixing up items or forgetting something.
  • Focus on packing outfits, not individual items. Roll each outfit together as tightly as possible so no items are missing from an outfit when you grab it to wear.
  • Exclude any items that will not fit in a packing cube to avoid taking up too much valuable space in a suitcase.
  • Place toiletries in packing cubes next to shoes, and place these items in the side of the suitcase that zips up so you don’t lose track of bathroom essentials.
  • Strategically store travel necessities — such as electronics, snacks, toys and extra clothes — in backpacks so they’re easy to grab throughout the journey to and from your chosen destination.

If you need to check one or more bags, know there are a few ways around paying baggage fees. Consider flying Southwest Airlines, a carrier that allows each passenger to check up to two bags for free. Or, fly in a premium cabin of a carrier that includes at least one checked bag per person in the cost of tickets.

Another way to get a free checked bag is to pay for flights with certain cobranded airline credit cards like the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card and the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card. Both offer a free checked bag as a perk.

Related: These credit cards can get you free checked bags

Never pay full price for a rental car

Avis’ lot at O’Hare International Airport. SEAN CUDAHY/THE POINTS GUY

Renting a car can add hundreds of dollars per week to your vacation budget, but a few tips and tricks can help you save money.

For example, you may be eligible to use a corporate code from your job or university to save money on your next car rental. Check your corporate or alumni travel site or student benefits page for rental company discounts.

AAA members are often also eligible for rental car discounts; one of the most significant discounts is the ability to save up to 20% on all Hertz rentals with the AAA discount code. Discounts are also available for USAA members who are active military personnel, veterans or the spouse or child of an active military member or veteran.

Related: Save money on your next trip! Use these tips to never pay full price for a rental car

Certain cards can also help you spend less on a rental car, including The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. The Amex Platinum offers discounted rates, automatic upgrades and bonus loyalty points when you rent through Hertz, and the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers discounts through both Avis and National.

Consider bringing your own car seats from home to cut car rental costs even more. Renting car seats can increase the cost of a car rental by upward of $30 per seat per day. Those savings can help cover other vacation expenses like food and activities.

It’s also worth considering whether you actually need a rental car. If you are staying at a theme park, all-inclusive resort or other destination where you will pretty much stay put once you arrive, you may spend less by using a ride-hailing service to get to and from the airport rather than paying for a car you won’t really use.

Related: Feeling the pain of record-high gas prices? Here’s how to save money and earn rewards on gas purchases

Go where the cheap flights take you


If you are looking for cheap airfare, consider throwing caution to the wind and choosing a destination based on flight prices (rather than searching for flights after you’ve decided where to go). This is easy to do using Google Flights. Once you have a rough idea of your travel dates, you can enter those dates and your city of origin into the Google Flights search tool.

Related: Key tools and tips to find the cheapest airfare

You’ll see a world map detailing flight prices to several major cities. You can scroll through the map and zoom in on different areas to help you focus on your perfectly priced destination. If your dates are flexible, you can also click on the date grid or price graph to see overall trends for pricing to your chosen vacation spot.

Book at the right time


There is a sweet spot when pricing out hotel stays and airline tickets. If you are looking for the best flight prices, there are a few guidelines to follow:

  • Flights during spring break, the peak of summer and the holiday season are often much more expensive than other times of the year.
  • For domestic flights, start monitoring prices three to four months in advance and book one to two months in advance.
  • For international flights, you should start monitoring six to seven months prior to the trip and book it three to five months in advance.
  • Flying midweek is generally cheaper than flying on the weekend.
  • Continue to monitor fares even after you book, as several airlines will let you reprice your flight if the cost goes down.

If you are wondering when you should book your hotel room for the best price, these tips should help:

  • Don’t fall for prepaid discounts. Instead, book a refundable rate so you can cancel your reservation with no penalty and rebook if the rate goes down.
  • Check in and out midweek instead of on a Friday or Saturday to save money.
  • Sometimes, it pays to wait until the last minute. Hotel rates do tend to drop about two weeks before check-in, based on availability.

Related: It’s time to book your summer trips now — here’s why

Use points or miles to cover some expenses


In addition to the above tips, you can significantly cut your out-of-pocket expenses by cashing in points and miles.

Even if you don’t have all the points you need to cover an entire expense like airfare for four people, you can book two tickets with points and use cash for the other two, or you can utilize an airline like Southwest that lets you pay for your tickets with cash and points.

You can do the same thing with hotel stays by paying for what you can with points and using cash to cover any remaining nights.

If points and miles are not an option, turn to a credit card in your wallet. Cards like the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card make it easy to redeem your miles for travel-related expenses from your statement to save cash on items you can’t always buy with points, such as theme park tickets.

Related: The best travel credit cards

Bottom line

When planning a family vacation on a budget, you need to look at every possible angle for savings. It’s sometimes impossible to abide by all of these tips when you travel. However, if you can follow at least one, you’re bound to save money the next time you and your family go on vacation.

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