Americans want their summer vacations.
After a year of being pent up during the pandemic, 80% said they are ready to travel, according to a recent survey by tourism market research firm Destination Analysts.
However, with that demand comes higher prices. Airline tickets are up 7% for the month and 24% from the year prior, according to the consumer price index for May, released by the Labor Department Thursday.
Car and truck rental rates jumped 12.1% in May, rising 110% from a year ago, and gas is up 56.2% over the past year.
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Yet there still are ways to spend smartly.
“Whether it is international or domestic, it is best to plan out every stage of your trip in advance to make sure there are not any hidden sticker shocks,” said Jordan Staab, president of SmarterTravel Media.
Here’s how you can save money when planning your next vacation.
1. Road trip it
The best way to save money is to drive your own car to your destination, Staab said.
To find the cheapest fuel prices during your road trip, he suggests downloading the GasBuddy app.
2. Don’t wait until the last minute
Staab anticipates the cost of flying will continue to rise until July 4, so if you want to book a summer trip, get on it right away, he advised.
If you have more flexibility and are comfortable waiting, there’s a chance prices could start going down after Independence Day.
That said, if you book the flight too close to the actual trip date, you could wind up paying more. The best time to buy your airline tickets is in what Scott Keyes, founder of travel deal websites and newsletter Scott’s Cheap Flights, calls the “Goldilocks window” — not too early and not too late.
For domestic trips, the cheap flights are most likely to pop up one to three months in advance of your travel date. If you are travelling internationally, they are mostly likely to occur two to eight months in advance, he said. You can monitor fares by setting up price alerts.
3. Be flexible
Typically people choose a destination, when the trip will occur and then look up airfare costs.
Instead, flip that on its head, Keyes said. Look up cheap flights out of your home airport and choose the destination that most interests you. Then, see what dates work with your schedule.
“By setting price as the top priority rather than the last priority, that’s how you get cheap flights,” Keyes said.
You may also find cheaper airfare at another nearby airport. It may mean a farther drive, but it doesn’t necessarily result in a longer travel time. For instance, that longer drive may result in a flight that doesn’t have as many stops along the way.
If you are traveling to a far-flung destination, you can also find less expensive airfare to a major city and then take a local budget airline, ferry or train to your final destination.
4. Remember the days
It’s no longer true that there is a best day of the week to book a flight, since new prices are constantly coming online, Keyes said.
That said, there tend to be cheaper days to actually fly: Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday.
5. Think outside the box
Beaches and national parks are extremely popular in the summer. In fact, if you want to visit a national park, Staab advises making a reservation first. In many parks, those reservations are mandatory.
To save money, consider a place that is not your normal destination, like the mountains instead of the beach.
“If it is something everyone wants to do, it is going to be expensive,” Staab said.
6. Don’t forget about Covid testing
You may need a coronavirus test before travelling, so research your destination to make sure you know what is required.
Some drugstore chains offer PCR testing at no additional cost if you use insurance, or if you fall under a federal program. You can also get rapid and PCR tests at some airports for a fee.
While you often have to pay for the test ahead of travel, many hotels and destinations are offering free testing, Staab noted. Some destinations will even pay you for a negative Covid test. For instance, the Azores Islands off the coast of Portugal offer a 35-euro voucher to offset the cost of the mandatory Covid test, he pointed out.
7. Hold off until fall
If you don’t have school-aged children, or don’t mind them missing a few days of class, then consider waiting to travel until the summer is over.
“If you travel during off-peak times, then you can find some great deals,” said Staab, who noted one of his favorite time to travel is in September.
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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.