Americans spent an average of almost $2,000 on their 2017 summer vacations, according to Allianz Travel Insurance. And if the trend the insurer’s Vacation Confidence Index has seen over the past three years continues, you can expect to spend an average of approximately $2,200 in 2018.
Depending on how you travel, though, you could cut back on your expenses. All you need to do is avoid some potentially costly mistakes when you’re planning your trip.
7 travel planning mistakes to avoid
Holly Johnson is an avid traveler. The freelance writer and co-owner of Club Thrifty spends roughly 12 weeks per year traveling the globe on a budget. As a result, she’s discovered several mistakes that lead to increased travel costs.
Here are some of the mistakes she’s noticed, along with a few of our own.
1. Staying loyal to one airline
“Loyalty to one airline doesn’t really pay off these days,” said Johnson. “If you book all your paid airfare with a specific airline to keep your [loyalty] status, you could miss out on lower prices elsewhere.”
What’s more, putting all your miles in one frequent flyer program can make it difficult to find award flights when you need them. “There’s nothing wrong with racking up airline miles via co-branded credit cards or paid flights, but you should try to keep your options open as much as you can,” Johnson said.
To get a good co-branded credit card, focus on airlines you frequently use, either because they usually offer inexpensive flights or because they have a hub close to where you live. But remember to keep an open mind when it comes time to book your trip.
And for the record, the same goes for hotels.
2. Traveling during peak season for no reason
If you have children, you’ve probably noticed that you and most of your friends usually travel when the kids are out of school and over holidays. The only problem is everyone else has the same idea, and the travel industry knows it.
Since the demand is so high, airlines, hotels, and car rental companies tend to charge higher prices during these times. So, if you can get away with traveling during off-peak times, you could save money.
To help, FareCompare shares the cheapest days to fly domestically and from the U.S. to Europe.
3. Not using travel deal websites
If you’re booking your flight and hotel directly through airline or hotel websites, you might be missing out on extra savings. Instead, search for deals on the following websites:
- Scott’s Cheap Flights notifies you when airlines list mistake fares that are significantly cheaper than usual.
- The Flight Deal shares multiple flight deals daily.
- Travelzoo lists offers from more than 2,000 travel, entertainment, and local companies.
- ShermansTravel shares deals and advice from travel experts.
- HotelTonight lists hotel deals for last-minute travel plans.
- Last Minute Cruises lists last-minute cruise deals for spontaneous travel.
- AutoSlash finds discount codes and searches multiple rental car companies to give you the best deals.
“AutoSlash can be immensely helpful for us to get lower rates on auto rentals,” said Johnson. “They do the work for you and alert you if a lower price comes along. It’s easy, and it’s free.”
4. Not being flexible with your destination
If your next vacation spot is popular with tourists, you might be able to enjoy a similar experience elsewhere without paying as much. For example, consider Willamette Valley in Oregon instead of Napa Valley in California or Puerto Rico instead of Hawaii.
Also, do a little research to see if your destination has different peak travel times than other areas and adjust your plans accordingly.
5. Not taking advantage of credit card rewards
“We leave for spring break in 12 days, and I paid for our four flights with Southwest miles [and] booked our hotels with IHG Rewards points and free night certificates from the Hyatt Credit Card,” said Johnson.
Johnson earned all the rewards she used for the trip through credit card sign-up bonuses and rewards. Having multiple travel credit cards isn’t the right choice for everyone. But it’s easy to earn enough points with one credit card to shave a few hundred dollars off a trip every year.
Keep in mind that responsible credit card use is essential to this strategy, however. Use a budget to avoid overspending and make sure to pay off your balance on time and in full each month.
6. Going into debt to pay for travel
According to a 2017 survey by LearnVest, 74% of Americans said they’ve gone into debt to pay for a vacation, with an average balance of $1,108.
Putting your trip costs on a credit card or taking out a personal loan might sound like an easy way to get what you want. But if you’re not careful, you could be be paying off that debt years from now.
Instead, do some math to determine how much your trip is going to cost. Divide that amount by the number of months you have between now and your departure date. Then, work to save that amount each month in a dedicated savings account.
Let’s say your trip will cost $2,000, for example, and you plan to leave in 10 months. That’s $200 per month you’ll need to save to avoid debt.
7. Paying for car rental insurance
Paying for rental car insurance can keep you from having to file a claim with your personal car insurance company in the event of an accident. But that insurance doesn’t come cheap. In some cases, it costs as much as the rental itself.
The good news is most credit cards offer rental car insurance, so you can skip the charge at the rental car counter. Most cards offer secondary coverage, though, which means you have to file a claim with your personal insurance company before the card benefits kick in.
“I recommend paying for rental cars with a travel credit card that offers primary auto rental coverage as a cardholder perk,” said Johnson. “My favorite options are Chase cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred because they offer this benefit for free.”
Note, however, that credit card rental car insurance doesn’t cover liability. So, you’ll need to purchase that coverage or file a claim with your personal insurance policy if an accident occurs.
Save money and gain peace of mind
It can be easy to allow expenses to get away from you when you’re planning a vacation. After all, you want to enjoy yourself and not constantly worry about how much it costs.
But with just a few changes to your planning, you could save hundreds of dollars on your trip and still enjoy it. In fact, you might enjoy it even more if you know you didn’t go into debt and saved money you can put toward your next vacation.
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