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Cheap Summer Getaways? There Are Still Deals

In the face of a weak economy and $4-a-gallon gasoline, many people are cutting corners, but don't expect them to sacrifice their summer vacation.

Many travel experts agree that for most Americans forgoing a summer getaway is neither an option nor a trend.

“The American public has taken the liberty to say vacation is not a privilege, but a right,” said Mark Orwoll, Senior Consulting Editor, of Travel + Leisure magazine. “Some take it a step further and call it an obligation.”

To help meet that “obligation” in the face of rising costs, here are some tips to keep down costs of summer travel.

Travel the Web For Airfare

Airplane Takeoff
Airplane Takeoff

With the evolution of travel Web sites, comparing prices of airfare and lodging is more accessible than ever, but thrifty travelers still need to know how to work the Web to find the best deal.

“There’s no one single bullet Web site, you’ve got to shop around,” said Rudy Maxa, travel expert and contributing editor with National Geographic Traveler magazine.

Maxa recommends starting at a Web site that provides fares for all major airlines.

CheapFlights.comis one site Maxa encourages people to use because it shows users not only the price of airfares on the dates they want to travel, but also the prices of airfare over several months.

This feature allows users to opt to fly for less on alternate dates.

Orwoll likes travel Web sites that give users freedom to compare prices on different dates and recommends FareCompare.com.

Farecompare’s Web site allows users to enter just their point of origin and the desired destination and then it pulls up almost a year’s span of average airfare.

“Right off the top, you can see what month has the best airfare,” Orwoll said.

Diane Clarkson, an online travel analyst for Jupiter Research, said she has noticed a growing trend in the popularity of tailored travel Web sites like Cheapflights.com and FareCompare.com.

“What they are offering is very appealing for the economic climate we are in,” said Clarkson. “I think there is a heightened price sensitivity and it’s drawing people to specialized sites.”

Other sites users are clicking on to save a buck are: Farecast.comand Yapta.com, Clarkson said.
Farecast, which is owned by Microsoft, offers an airfare prediction feature that helps users decide when to buy their ticket by showing increases and decreases in the price of the desired airfare within a seven-day period.

It also displays the price history of hotels to let users know if they are paying more or less than usual.

Yapta is currently a browser add-on, allows users to ‘tag’ flights on different airline’s Web sites and then Yapta notifies the user when the price drops.

Yapta also continues to track a flight for price drops after users have bought their ticket.

This feature allows users to know whether they can collect a refund from the airline if they paid more for their ticket.

When buying airfare or booking accommodations through any Web site though, Orwoll offers some money-saving advice: “Book travel and lodging well in advance, you will always get a better deal,” he said.

Get Creative With Lodging

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There are several ways travel experts recommend to save money on lodging this summer.

House swapping, or trading homes with another family, is one suggestion. Web sites such as Homeexchange.comor Homelink-usa.com can help find families willing to swap their home, said Eric Torkells, editor of Budget Travel magazine.

The sites are only for the serious as they require a fee of about $100. However, other than that, the housing is free.

Don’t forget to take advantage of state park lodges, Torkells said. He said the lodges in the different parks vary in the amenities offered, but most beat the cost of a hotel room.

“State systems are fantastic and underused by a lot of people,” he said.

Orwoll said he is a proponent of camping and recommends families try the great outdoors for their next family vacation. Most campgrounds have amenities such as water and electricity, and cost less than $25 a night.

“The great thing about camping is most people already have some of the equipment. But even if you’re starting from scratch, you can really outfit a family of four for under $600,” he said.

But if a hotel is a must, a hotel loyalty club can help, Torkells said.Most hotels will often offer special rates and deals only to their members. Also, there are often perks just for signing up for the club.

Don’t forget to check hotel Web sites for the best rates, Orwoll said. Most hotels guarantee the best rates will be found on their own Web site, not through search engines.

Visit The Diamonds In The Rough

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Vacations also do not have to mean traveling thousands of miles to a foreign city.

“There are unusual, lesser known places, and you’ll find them within 200 miles from where you live,” Orwoll said.

There are several advantages to traveling regionally. First, by staying closer to home, travelers save money on fuel. Second, by visiting less “touristy” destinations lodging rates are automatically going to be significantly lower than more popular areas.

Some hidden destinations include the Finger Lakes region of New York, Madeline Island of Wisconsin and Washington’s San Juan Islands, said Maxa. He said he also favors lesser-known wine countries in California like Santa Barbara or Monterey over Napa Valley.

Once a destination is decided, check with the Web site of its conference and visitor’s bureau for cheap activities. Most of the time, it will list events, museums, or other attractions that are either free or discounted.

“A change is as good as a rest,” Orwoll said. “Every trip does not have to be a slam dunk, once in a lifetime blow out. Start looking in your backyard.”

Quick Tips

  • Long Itineraries For Foreign Travel

Check Kayak.com for cheap international airfare, Maxa said.

“It gives you much longer menus for more options. It helps cut budget with hard itineraries,” he said.

  • Package Last Minute Travel

Buy a vacation package. Maxa recommends Lastminute.comor Lastminutetravel.com.

“What you will pay will be cheaper than if you bought everything separately. The discounts are disguised,” he said

Airfarewatchdog.comcan also help with last-minute airfare on the cheap, Orwoll said.

  • Mix Work And Pleasure

Turn a business trip into a vacation.

By flying home from a business trip on an off peak day, like Tuesday, a company can save money and buy you some extra time to play.

“I think it’s one way to stretch your airfare, and it certainly makes traveling more fun,” Maxa said.

  • Book, But Keep Looking

If the hotel or car rental company does not require a deposit or will refund your money, keep looking for a better deal. When you find it, take it.

“They are banking on the fact you aren’t going to do it,” Torkells said. “It pays to keep looking.”