The good news is that the economy has improved. The bad news is that travel deals will not be as plentiful now that things are better. But you can still save money on your summer vacation if you’re savvy. The best thing to do is to draw up a budget so that you know what you can afford to spend and how much the trip will cost. There are all kinds of ways to save money during your vacation, such as buying www.Restaurant.com cards (up to 75% off at participating restaurants), checking www.GasBuddy.com for the lowest gas prices, and purchasing national park passes (http://www.nps.gov/findapark/passes.htm) to save money on entrance fees and city passes (www.citypasses.com) to bundle admission to popular attractions. However, a budget can be blown by hidden costs. Remember that anyone in the vehicle over the age of 62 qualifies for a Senior Pass, which is much cheaper than a regular park pass and is good for everyone in the same vehicle.
1. AIRLINE TICKETS. There are dozens of airline surcharges these days. This has become a major revenue maker for the airlines. Some of the fees you can be charged are airport taxes, security fees, fuel surcharges, window or aisle seat preferences, extra leg room, early boarding, and baggage fees. As always, you will be charged if you have to change your reservation after the ticket has been purchased. There may be ‘rental’ fees for blankets, pillows, and headphones.
2. RENTAL CAR. Most rental car companies sell pricey collision and liability insurance (minimum $25 per diem), which is usually covered by your auto insurance provider. So if your policy covers you (check with your agent or review your policy), be sure to waive this insurance. Other fees may include car upgrade, satellite radio, GPS service, automatic toll collection, and gas (if you don’t fill the tank before turning the car back in). Remember that a rental car fee is almost always highest for those rented at the airport and there may be a penalty for dropping the vehicle off at a different location. Many credit card companies and credit unions offer their customer discounts so be sure to look at that possibility. I save 20% on the rental fee and am entitled to a free upgrade through my credit union and receive free insurance coverage through one of my credit card companies.
FYI: Always pick the economy class rental car. Since it is the cheapest rental, it is usually snapped up first. If none are available, the company will upgrade you at no charge.
3. HOTELS. Parking is one of the biggest “gotcha” fees for hotels. In many metropolitan cities, hotels charge $10 – $20 per day for parking. If you don’t see ‘Free Wi-Fi’ signs, chances are that the property charges $10 – $20 per day for Internet access. There may be fees for using the phone or the pool or the fitness center. The mini bar prices are exorbitant so steer clear of that pack of peanuts or soda. Most hotels have high tax rates, which include a ‘resort fee’. There is no way around this charge. However, be aware that some properties charge an automatic tip for maid service and/or room service. A tip is expected for concierge service and porterage (carrying your bags).
FYI: If you’re a member of a rewards program, see if you can score a complimentary room upgrade or other perks. Be sure you know what is included in the program. If you book through a vendor, such as Priceline or Hotwire, be aware that you will not be able to specify king or double beds or smoking or non-smoking rooms. A good resource is www.tingo.com. Tingo (owned by TripAdvisor) allows you to prepay for a fully-refundable hotel room. If the price drops after you have booked, it will cancel the booking and re-book at the lower fare.
4. CRUISES. They are legendary for their hidden fees. Make sure the good deal you’re about to click on includes all port taxes, which can average $500 per person. Do you need to buy an airline ticket to get to the departure port? That has to be factored into your budget. What about parking? Will you have to pay for parking for your vehicle? Or pay for a rental car? Gratuities are added to your bill at the end of the cruise and add up to a substantial amount. Charges made throughout the cruise, such as sodas, pina coladas, specialty dining, spa services, fun fees, and port tours.
FYI: Summer is peak hurricane season (June 1 – November 1) so be aware that may be why you scored such a good deal on that Caribbean cruise!