Michael on August 20th, 2007
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You: Okay, so where are you going?

San Francisco, Idaho.

You: You do realize San Francisco isn’t in Idaho?

I do. First I’m going to SF, then to Idaho.

You: Expensive?

It’s actually not that expensive. Like most money issues, advance planning of your vacation provides you with opportunities to spend less and have more.

Here are three tips to lower the cost of your next vacation:

1. Go somewhere close. Even with gas prices still high, driving 4-5 hours is still a lot less expensive than paying for airplane tickets (especially if there are two or more of you traveling). If you must go beyond the distance of a reasonable car ride (as in the case of my upcoming coast to coast trip for a wedding and to see family), book way out and be willing to be creative on airports, times, and days to get the lowest rates. I easily spent four hours getting the best airfares, but saved several hundred dollars in the process. On an hourly basis, it was certainly worth the time.

2. Pick hotels strategically. If you know you’re definitely going on a trip and can get a significant discount by purchasing a nonrefundable rate, consider that less expensive option. Once I bought nonrefundable airfare to my friend’s California wedding, I was certainly going on the trip. By committing to the hotel I wanted in advance, I saved over $100.

In addition, many hotels include a continental breakfast in their rate. Depending on your discretion, choosing such a hotel could easily save you $10 per person per day. So factor that in when selecting and comparing hotels.

3. Don’t assume you need (or will want) a car right away. Some times you’ll need a rental car when you land at the airport. But other times, like on my upcoming trip, you won’t.

In our case, we’re flying to California on Wednesday for a wedding that will be held on Saturday night an hour outside of SF.

You: Then why are you flying Wednesday?

Flying Wednesday saved enough money compared to flying Friday that it paid for the extra hotel nights plus some food money. So, we’ll enjoy those extra days in SF.

You: So what about the car?

Renting a car when we land at the airport would cost more than $50 a day. Plus it would cost over $40 a day to park it at the hotel. That’s a chunk of change for minor benefit. Instead, we’re going to take a taxi to the hotel (about $40 – one time) and we’ll pick up the car two days later from a location in SF.

Additional advantages of doing it this way.

  • Most states assess a ridiculously high additional tax on airport car rentals. Typically such taxes are less expensive (or even non-existent) if you rent in a city (away from the airport). Multiply the higher tax rate by the extra days you’ve rented the car, and you’re talking real money. All to have the ability to have a car at your hotel ready for when you want it. I’ll wait until I need it and spend the money on something else (or save it).
  • By returning the car to the airport, I won’t have to pay return trip taxi-fare. You too can often return a rental car to an airport location for no additional charge.
  • I won’t have to navigate SF after a cross-country plane trip and a tired 2-year old in he back seat screaming “hungry.”

I think that’s enough for now, but I may let you know of some others as we travel. Do you have any vacation spending reduction techniques you’d like to share? Provide your own financial education.

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