Tips for Shopping Around
Some of the best vacation deals can be had by having a flexible schedule. Most of us live similar schedules and we all seem to have the same 8 weeks in the summer and week around Christmas when our schedule commitments ease up. It’s these weeks that cost top dollar for vacation – and it’s these weeks that you should try to avoid if you’re trying to plan a cheap vacation.
The “vacation business” is no different than others in that when Supply exceeds Demand – prices go down (and vice versa). Look at those other 40 weeks of the year and ask yourself, why not? If the difference between you going on the vacation of your dreams or not going is the cost of the vacation itself, than be more creative and shop around with a flexible schedule.
I admit that this is getting tougher as our kids are getting older, but it’s still possible. Here are some examples of vacation deals (in real dollars) of what we saved when we aligned our vacation dates with our wallets:
- Ocean City, NJ:
The kids were all under the age of 7, and we asked their Kindergarten and pre-school teachers if it would be OK if they’d miss their 3rd week of school (late September) – the answer was “yes!”, of course. We rented a house in Ocean City, NJ that was right on the beach for approx. $1,800 for the week and split it amongst 3 families. Peak season, this same house rents for over $4,500 for 1 week! Most of the boardwalk’s concessions were open Thursday to Sunday. The water was warm and the weather was great…and we had an awesome vacation that we were able to comfortably afford!
- Disney World:
When we hesitantly approached the grade school principal about pulling out our boys in November from school so that we could drive to Orlando, she laughed and whole-heartily endorsed the idea. She was excited for their adventure and said they would learn as much on a trip like that, if not more than what they’d learn during a week in their classrooms (they did have a few make-up assignment, though :-). For that trip, we were able to book a 7-night trip with park-hopper tickets and meals included for less than $250/night – a great vacation deal & a Disney bargain!
When we decided to go ‘out west‘ to see the Tetons, Yellowstone, and Grand Canyon, I read about the mid-July to late-August crowds and limited availability for some excursions and events that I really didn’t want to miss. Surprisingly mid-to-late June had much better pricing and availability. As a bonus, the slow winter thaw gave us loads of wildlife viewing events – apparently there’s a migration up the mountain as the snow melts, so late summer visitors don’t get all the grizzly and elk sightings that we had! What did we sacrifice? A couple little league post-season games and a weekend between school ending and our flights. Easy trade. The games are long since forgotten, but the vacation stories and memories are still living on!
We recently took a Western Caribbean cruise that we had initially deemed as unaffordable, but my wife shopped…and shopped…and we ended up going at almost 50% of the peak season rate! We chose to go in late August and ‘roll the dice’ with hurricane season. We also chose to book the cruise nearly a year and a half in advance. We booked the most affordable deck on the ship – Deck 2. The total savings was over $3,000. I’d do that vacation again in a heartbeat…one of the best trips that our family ever had!
I start all of my vacation plans with a spreadsheet. I initially take an educated guess on the estimated costs and if it’s within our budget, I start to book it. On one occasion, every cost was higher than my initial predictions (hotel taxes, rental car, etc…) an I started to get nervous. I was over-budget and what I projected for airfare months ago, was now much higher. I did not want to pull the plug on our vacation, but I was running out of options. That’s when I started to look at different airport options. Depending on your schedule and rental car option, you might save $100-$200 a ticket, if you’re willing to drive an hour or two. We were able to do this when we flew into Salt Lake City instead of Jackson Hole. Yes, we sacrificed convenience for budget…but it was worth it. We also did this when booking a flight out of San Francisco instead of Sacramento. We saved both money and a lay-over! Shop airline options – these are some of the best seasonal vacation deals out there! Also consider the day of the week that you’re flying. Something as simple as flying on a Thursday instead of a Saturday could save you hundreds of dollars when applied over several airline tickets!
So if there’s any message or moral from the above stories – it’s be flexible. BE SURE TO SHOP ALL THE ANGLES. If it’s your dream trip, don’t give up on it. If you are willing to travel when many others won’t, you can save thousands of dollars and enjoy a far less-crowded atmosphere.
If you’re unsure about when is the cheapest time to travel, use the airline websites as your guide. Enter in different departure and return dates for your proposed trip. You’ll quickly see when the demand is lowest by the cheap fares that the airlines offers.
In a world of lemmings, it can be very expensive to follow the crowd…break away from the herd and there are some great vacation deals to be found!