Food, Travel and Tech

Here's when to book your hotel, flight and rental car for your summer vacation

Chloé Boulos | Twenty20

Over half of Americans are planning to take a summer vacation this year and they're planning to spend an average of almost $2,000, according to Bankrate.

But traveling during the summer high season is typically more expensive than other times of the year, depending on the destination. So how can you get the best bang for your buck? A lot of it can come down to when you book.

To determine the best time for U.S. travelers to book trips worldwide, Expedia crunched the numbers, looking at consumer demand and pricing for flights, hotels and rental cars available on the company's platform for trips between May 20 and Sept. 30, 2019. The travel site found that if you book at the right time, you can save hundreds off the average cost of a week-long summer vacation.

So with only a few weeks to go before the summer travel season kicks off, here's a look at when you should reserve all of the key components of your travel.

When to book a flight

Expedia found that for U.S. travelers looking to travel during summer, the "sweet spot" for airfares is about three weeks to a month ahead of time. To be precise, travelers should book 21 to 30 days in advance of their ideal departure, according to Alexis Tiacoh, a spokeswoman for Expedia.

Last year, those who booked within that window saved 15% on their flights worldwide, Expedia found. The average cost for a seat on a flight originating in the U.S. to destinations both domestic and international last summer was $517.

Travelers who booked 14 to 20 days ahead of their trip saved about 10% off the average price.

Beyond that, if you book too late, or too early, you're likely to pay more. Expedia found that those who booked more than 90 days in advance paid 15% more for their flights than the average cost.

When you start your trip may also net you some savings on airfares. Expedia's 2019 Travel Pricing Outlook report found flights that take off on a Thursday or Friday tend to be cheaper, with travelers saving about 10% off the average airfare. That's based on a review of more than 295 million passenger air travel trips in 2018.

When it comes to booking your flight, the report finds the best day to plunk down your credit card is on a weekend, particularly on Sundays. Expedia reports you can save up to 20% if you book on a weekend, and up to 36% off the average cost of a flight if you book your ticket on a Sunday.

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When to book a rental car

It turns out you should reserve your rental car before you book your hotel for summer vacations. Expedia says the optimal time to book a rental car, regardless of the destination, is 14 to 20 days ahead of your trip.

Those who booked within this window last summer saved about 5% off their rental, securing an average daily rate of $39, according to Expedia. Those who booked over three months ahead of their trip paid about $43 a day.

When to book lodging

While vacation rentals are gaining popularity, Kayak found last summer that 56% of Americans still prefer to stay in hotels.

If you really want to secure the best possible deal on a hotel, Expedia says it pays to reserve your room last-minute. You may not have as many options, but those who book less than six days before traveling (domestic and international) typically save over 15% on their hotel, Expedia found.

Last year, the average daily rate for a hotel room worldwide from May to September was $161.

Generally, the days on which you book can also have a significant impact on price. Drawing on data from over 1 million hotel and vacation properties, Expedia found that it's cheapest to secure your hotel reservation on a Friday.

If you're planning to travel to a popular city or you'll be in town during a major event, however, don't wait until the last minute. In that situation, it's best to book a hotel early. Otherwise, you may find that the hotel choices left at the last-minute are not in your budget.

Not sure if this applies? You can track hotel prices through Expedia, as well as travel sites like Kayak and Hopper, although Hopper currently only provides hotels in a limited number of cities.

Save by booking your trip all together

Vacation packages can be another way to save. "One thing I always tell people, regardless of what kind of trip they're planning, is to consider booking travel as a vacation package," Tiacoh says.

If you do go this route, Tiacoh says you can save the most by booking a vacation package last-minute. Trips booked less than six days in advance were 25% cheaper than the average package costs last summer.

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