Traveling is a life-changing, memory-making, adventurous endeavor that is a great way to spend time as a family. Unfortunately, at least at the present time, it’s also expensive. In fact, according to a survey by Travel Purse, a family vacation in 2024 will be even more expensive than in 2023.
Therefore, to still have the experiences you want with your family, it’s important and helpful to know about some key money-saving tips that can help you cut traveling expenses, namely in the three main expenditure areas: flight, hotel, and food costs.
Thankfully, by putting the tips outlined below into practice, you can still enjoy traveling into 2024 and beyond. It simply takes a bit of effort, planning, and a purposeful outlook to ensure you are getting the best deal possible, no matter what trips your family plans to take throughout 2024.
How to Save Money on Flights
Saving money on airline flights doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to opt for cramped seats or less than safe or reputable airline companies.
Instead, you can use the following tips, tools, and guidelines to ensure that you are getting the best rate on the flight portion of your family vacation:
Find package deals
In many cases, combining your flight costs with your local transportation costs, hotel, and even perhaps attraction tickets can save you on all aspects.
Bundling can save you money not only on car and home insurance but on airline flights as well (sorry, does anyone else hear that commercial in your head when you read the word bundling?).
If your family plans include a popular attraction like Disney World, then there is likely an abundance of package deals readily available.
Avoid peak flight by traveling at the right time of year
As with destinations and hotel costs, there are peak seasons for airline flight costs as well. To ensure you are getting the best deal on your airline costs, consider avoiding peak flight season.
Peak flight months begin in May and run into late August. Off-peak months, which are known for better rates, include January through November flights.
This does exclude December, as you might have guessed, which is considered a holiday flight and tends to be excessively expensive. Being flexible on when you vacation can be one of your biggest advantages in terms of saving money on airline flights.
The cheapest two months to travel are January and February for domestic flights, while international trips surprisingly are cheapest in August.
The day of the week is important, too
One less-than-well-known way to save money on a flight is to both book and travel on the right day. For example, if you book an international flight to depart on a Thursday, you can enjoy as much as a 6% savings, which equates to about a $60 savings off a round trip, according to a CheapAir Airfare Study.
For domestic flights, Wednesday is that “magic day,” saving you, on average, $100 off an airline ticket when compared to traveling on the most expensive day of all to travel, Sunday.
What all this means is that when flying domestically within the country, you can expect to travel the cheapest Tuesday through Thursday.
When it comes to booking the flights, the best day of the week to book said flight is Sunday, according to Expedia (the most expensive day of the week to book a flight is Friday).
According to the numbers outlined in this Reader’s Digest article on when to buy plane tickets, the best airfare is achieved by booking at the end of the weekend on a Sunday, saving you around 5% on domestic flights and 10% on International trips.
Book in advance…but not too far
Another notable way to save money when traveling via airplane is to book in advance. This is especially important during peak travel seasons to popular destinations.
While the allure of spontaneity is understandable, if you can plan ahead, you can save some significant money. (Who am I kidding, there is no ability to be spontaneous with kids; I guess it’s a good thing in this aspect.)
Generally, when traveling within the United States, you want to book 28 days before you depart. This can save you up to 24% compared to booking last minute. When planning an international trip, your planning window needs to be a bit broader as the best day to book is 60 days out of your departure date, and no more than four months prior.
As you likely noticed, these booking suggestions are not that far in advance. Perhaps you thought that you would benefit from booking a year in advance? Interestingly enough, while waiting until the last minute is not advised, neither is booking too extremely far in advance.
Finding the happy medium will merit the most savings, according to a report by Expedia.
Learn about some flight cost-savings tools
As we have already outlined, booking a flight with the most savings possible is akin to walking a narrow pathway. You can’t do it too early or too late.
However, there are some hacks in the form of tools that can help you earn the benefits of price drops without the risk of waiting until the last minute. On the Expedia App—for Gold and Platinum Tier members— you can ensure that if a cheaper price is issued for your flight after your booking, then you will be refunded the difference.
The Hopper tool is another way to save money on your flight by ensuring that you get the best price available. This app allows you to search your travel date, and highlights via colors what options are the most affordable. The color system is extremely user-friendly and helps you narrow down when the most affordable time to travel is to your desired destination.
Skyscanner is another popular tool, and it is unique in that it allows you to search “everywhere” instead of entering a specific destination. This is advantageous as it can, in essence, allow the price of flights to help guide you to choosing a destination, instead of you having a destination in mind already (you can enter a destination to use the other money-saving aspects of this tool).
Use credit card points
If you have a credit card that gives you flight miles or discounts in traveling costs at all, make sure you take advantage of these. Jet Blue rewards is one example and can often save you money by letting you skip baggage fees.
Capital One is another card that can help you erase the cost of flights or at least save significantly on them via air miles or rewards points. Another neat tip to remember is to always check and see if your reward points can be used towards a flight on another airline than the one listed.
Some airlines partner together, like Hawaiian Airlines and Jet Blue, expanding how you can use your valuable loyalty points. The important aspect to remember is always to check what savings you have already earned before you pay out-of-pocket for airline tickets.
Be aware that some hacks can cost you
One popular trend that has been making its way throughout TikTok is known as #skiplagging. This “hack” is done when you buy a ticket for a flight with a connecting flight. Instead of proceeding to the ticketed end destination, you get off at the connection or layover and don’t board the connecting flight.
Those who boast this hack call it a “cheat code,” as they say it can save you money on a ticket for example. An example of this is a ticket from Cleveland to Minneapolis, with a connecting flight in Dallas for $127, while the direct flight from Cleveland to Dallas is $465.
The harm in this is the fact that the airline can punish you if they catch you, as this practice is strictly prohibited by all but one of the ten major airlines in America (the only exception being a company that does not sell any tickets with connecting flights).
It is called “hidden-city ticketing,” and though it isn’t illegal, it is very much frowned upon. As punishment, if caught, airlines can charge you the difference in airfare, cancel travel miles, charge additional fees for delivering baggage, and more, which can all cost you a lot of money that doesn’t merit the hassle or risk of skiplagging.
How to Save Money on Hotels
Another big part of any vacation budget is the accommodation or hotel costs. Thankfully, though, if you do your homework, you can save money on this all-important vacation element, even without sacrificing in terms of the quality of stay (this is in addition to the bundling factor discussed earlier that can save you on all aspects of vacation costs put together).
Here’s how to save on your vacation stay:
When it comes to when you travel and even where you want to go, the best way to save money is to be flexible. Track hotel prices for where you want to visit and see when peak room rates are, and then avoid those times.
In general, summer vacation times and spring break are the most expensive costs for hotel rentals, while some destinations also have a spike during the holidays.
You can also save some money simply by avoiding weekend rental rates and aiming for the middle of the week; that is, Monday through Friday or Sunday through Thursday.
Use price-checking tools, but check a bit further
Today we have the luxury of plugging a destination and travel time into a travel booking tool and instantly finding the best rates out there. For example, tools like Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Expedia, among many others, can help you find hotel options that fit what you want to spend per night or per stay.
When you are willing to do some research and work, you can save a great deal of money on your hotel stay with these tools.
It’s worth noting, though, that even if the price looks good on one of these sites through which you can book, it might be worth at least checking to see if you can get a better rate either through the hotel’s website or via their social media pages.
Of course, if you want, you can always call as well and actually speak to someone, especially for properties that are privately owned, as they will be inclined to offer a better rate if you don’t book through a middleman.
Stay a bit outside the hustle and bustle
Another way you can save some money on your accommodations is to get a bit outside the main area or center of the city.
When you are staying in a tourist-rich area, there are usually travel accommodations to get from outside the fray back into the main areas. Therefore, you can save money by staying outside the hustle and bustle and then taking public transit or even driving to the attractions.
The caveat to this tip is obviously if you have to pay an exorbitant amount to ride public transit or if you get a discount on ticket costs when you stay inside a certain area or within a hotel owned by the park, such as when visiting Disney World or Universal Studios.
Of course, in some instances, the amount you save on your accommodations can make it worth the added cost of parking and/or transportation, so do the math to find out for sure.
Try a loyalty program
Some hotel systems have a loyalty program that rewards you for staying repeatedly on their properties. If you travel regularly and enjoy a particular hotel that has many branches located throughout the country and across the globe, this can be a simple way to save some money and always know what type of accommodations to expect at the same time.
Many major hotel chains have loyalty programs of some sort, and they are usually fairly simple to join, often taking just a few minutes of your time. Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors are just two examples of the many types of loyalty programs out there.
If your preferred hotel doesn’t have a loyalty program listed, you can always contact them when booking, as they might give you some form of savings simply for being a loyal customer.
If you would rather opt for another way to save but do have a particular hotel you enjoy visiting, you can instead sign up for a hotel credit card.
Many hotels have partnered with credit card companies that offer discounts on hotel stays. In fact, in some of these cases, you can earn a free night stay just by signing up for the card. The Hilton Honors American Express card is one example of the many you can find.
Don’t tie yourself to hotels alone
When planning your family vacation, don’t count out other types of accommodations in order to stick to hotels alone. There are many options today, like vacation rentals, such as cabins or condos, AirBnBs, and VRBOs located at virtually any location you want to visit.
Sometimes, this type of rental can save you money in the long run, and this is especially true if you have to rent more than one hotel room for your family.
Another added benefit of a larger rental like these properties is the fact that they usually come with full kitchens, allowing you to prepare some meals on-site, instead of having to dine out for every single meal (another savings).
There are also usually laundry facilities and several bedrooms that make them more accommodating for families vacationing together.
Be aware, though, that when renting private property, your risk of ending up somewhere you didn’t expect goes up immensely. Therefore, if you opt for this type of rental over that of an established and well-known hotel, then make sure that you do your homework ahead of time to avoid any vacation rental disasters.
How to Save Money on Dining
For the grand finale on our list of ways to make your family vacation in 2024 more affordable, let’s look at how to save money on dining.
According to a Forbes Advisor list, the average cost for a family of four to eat out within the United States while traveling was a whopping $417.04 a day, and this is only getting more expensive, so finding ways to save in this all-important category is key in reducing your vacation costs overall.
Avoid the touristy locations, at least for the most part
While they are admittedly fun, it’s important to find those not-so-well-known locations in order to save money. Ask locals where the good eats are, such as those who work at your hotel, and find out where to go to get a good meal for much less.
If your kids (or you) still want to have that fun, tourist-rich experience, simply aim to limit your visit to one or two of these locations while on vacation. In other words, it doesn’t have to be an every-meal thing; just aim for a few special meals on vacation and save money on the others!
Visit your splurge restaurant during lunchtime
It’s much more expensive to eat at any restaurant for dinner rather than lunch. However, for many restaurants, their menu is virtually the same, perhaps with smaller food portions or fewer sides.
Therefore, if there is a restaurant you want to visit, which you consider your splurge or touristy location, then try this eatery during the day for lunch or brunch instead of for dinner.
Another way to save money at any restaurant is to avoid ordering sodas, tea, or alcohol. Also, know where and when your kids can eat more affordably.
Some restaurants have certain days of the week that they offer free kids meals with adult food purchases, or always have deals on kid’s menu items. Others will offer savings every day within a specific set of hours.
It’s also helpful to look for coupons for specific restaurants or items at the restaurant you can try at a discount or for free.
Try street food
Trying street food, food trucks, or street food vendors is an admittedly adventurous way to save some money and perhaps enjoy a brand-new experience.
Ask where the locals frequent and see what seems to be the most popular. You can save a great deal of money when eating on the street instead of sitting inside a restaurant, and kids will most likely love the unique experience.
To ensure that you are buying food that is safe, look for inspectors’ rates or letter scales on the truck.
Prepare your own food
If you have the means of cooking for yourself, then hit the local grocery store when you arrive at your destination and cook a few meals— and enjoy all your snacks— instead of purchasing all your food at a restaurant.
If you are staying at a hotel that offers continental or complimentary breakfast, make sure you are taking advantage of that. You can also fix sandwiches or other similar items for the meal you aren’t eating out and then eat heartier at your one meal out at a restaurant.
Use a credit card
You can also use a credit card to pay for food purchases and earn rewards. The important thing to remember, though, is that you still want to maintain your food budget and not go crazy because the meal price is being charged.
The idea is to spend exactly what you were going to spend already, even with all the savings hacks, and then simply save the money you get either back from your credit card company or use the rewards towards another purchase.
There are many credit cards that offer rewards for dining purchases, along with other travel-related expenses.