I love to go places. I would rather go on a trip than have a diamond or a fancy car. And believe me, I have neither. My car smells like French fries and my good jewelry fits in an Altoid tin.
Vacationing is a challenge when you have a family and a tight budget, but now with the power of the Internet, you can find great deals on flights and hotels.
Finding a Cheap Flight
I use an aggregator like Kayak or Bing Travel. They show you flights from all the major airlines so you can compare and find the best flight for you at the best price. If you are willing to fly at off-peak days and times, you can get a great deal.
I flew across the country within the last few years for $120. I had to fly back on the red-eye, but it was worth it, except for the drool from a strange child on my shoulder. I probably wouldn’t do it again because I have a difficult time sleeping on the plane. It’s all a trade off.
What I like about Bing Travel is their matrix of prices and travel times. It shows you that for, let’s say, a Tuesday flight, x o’clock is half the price of y o’clock. Usually midweek days are also the cheapest. You can flex your flight times by hours or to a different day and save literally hundreds of dollars.
Also, Bing estimates whether prices are likely to rise or fall, helping you decide on buying right now or waiting and watching.
When I’m ready to purchase a ticket, I keep a tab with my flight parameters open and refresh it occasionally. I’ve seen prices drop suddenly and then rebound just as quickly. Tracking the prices helps me know the right time to buy.
A hidden cost to flying now is bag check fees. I love to check my bag because I think it gets me on and off the plane faster. I hate lugging kids and bags around the terminals, into the bathrooms and while making a connecting flight. I’d check the kids if I could.
Southwest Airline currently does not charge for the first checked bag. This can be a savings of $50 to $100 round-trip. Southwest tickets do not appear on aggregator sites and must be booked directly through southwest.com.
The best way to find out about Southwest’s amazing sales is to register with them to receive sale announcements via e-mail.
Saving Money on Lodging
For hotels, I always use Priceline and use the Name Your Own Price feature. To prepare for Priceline bidding, I research hotels on betterbidding.com. This is a forum recording Priceline wins by city and winning bid strategies. It’s a decent indicator of possible hotels and previous winning bids. Also, betterbidding has a Hotwire forum.
There is a learning curve to doing research on betterbidding, but I find it to be worth it.
I have friends who swear by Hotwire, but to me it’s like buying a pig in a poke. I feel like I get a better deal on Priceline.
Priceline works best for travel with just me and my husband. You aren’t guaranteed more than room for two. If you are traveling with three or four people, you can call the hotel directly after your winning bid and ask for room for four, but you really take your chances on that one.
For travel with my whole family, I use sixsuitcasetravel.com. This is a resource listing hotels that accommodate five to eight people. Lodging on this list tend to be suite hotels– some quite nice with free breakfast–and extended-stay hotels. I have been very pleased with this resource as we’ve traveled across the country.
If you travel frequently, it may be worth it to join a hotel chain’s loyalty club, book directly and earn points toward free nights, skipping Priceline and Hotwire altogether. There’s something to be said for knowing you’re always going to stay in a Marriott or Holiday Inn and have expected services and amenities.
The way to save the most money and still travel is to leave the kids at home with Granny and roll out solo to meet up with your middle-aged lady posse. Good times. You are never too young to start your mid-life crisis.
I hope this helps you plan your next solo, couple or family vacation to Disney World or the World’s Largest Ball of Twine.
The opinions are my own and based on my experience. This post is not sponsored in any way.