Spring break is approaching. Perhaps, you were hoping to finally get away to some exotic destination, or maybe you just want to explore your own backyard. Either way, there are always opportunities to make the most of your travels, far or near, while making sure the fun does not cost a fortune.
If you are planning a getaway that requires boarding a plane, knowing a few insider tricks (or not-so-insider anymore) and taking advantage of a few techie tools can save hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars, depending on your destination. When you buy tickets is definitely important. According to Rick Seaney, CEO and co-founder of FareCompare.com, 3 p.m. Tuesday is the time to find the best deals.
"Monday night is when the major airlines announce sales. This triggers other airlines to try to match those sales on Tuesday," he says.
One of my favorite ways to find a bargain on airfare is using Bing.com, an alternative search engine similar to Google or Yahoo! Their cool price predictor tool magically tells you if you should snap up that ticket, because prices are on the rise, or whether waiting a few days is likely to produce a cheaper fare. (OK, I know it's complex math and not magic, but it's still cool). Of course, for those who live by their mobile devices, there are plenty of apps for airfare hunting. Skyscanner (free) not only scans all the major airlines' websites for the lowest fares, but all of the other travel sites like Expedia and Priceline, too. It even has a nifty little function that will let you pick a budget and see where you can go within that price parameter during a specific time frame.
Lodging and dining
While these are typically two separate categories, by combining them, you can realize substantial savings when you travel. A typical hotel room might include a small fridge and a microwave, if you're lucky. This means eating the majority of meals out. For a family of four, two to three restaurant meals a day can easily be $50 to $100 a day. At the very least, look for hotels that include breakfast with your stay. Also, if your room has a fridge, store lunch basics to prepare small picnics while you're on the go, and snack items. If you do have to eat out frequently during your vacation, look for places where kids eat free. Allkidseatfree.com has a fairly up-to-date list.
Another option to consider: condo rentals. There is a common misconception that these larger and more equipped accommodations will come with steep price tags. In reality, they are often a better deal than most hotels. Condos come with kitchens, so you can eliminate a large portion of the dining-out expenses. Also, if you are traveling with family or friends, condos are typically roomy enough to comfortably sleep a group of people. Bunking together means sharing the cost of the rental, and everyone saves.
Additionally, due to over-saturation, timeshare rentals have flooded the market with swank digs that can be incredibly inexpensive. Recently, I was able to grab a two-bedroom, two-bath condo with kitchen in an amazing family-friendly resort near Disney World for $69 a night. Check out eBay travel or sellmytimesharenow.com for expansive listings all over the country, and even internationally. Plus, if you see a lot of inventory available and you are fairly close to the dates you will be staying, don't hesitate to negotiate for an even lower rate. This holds true for hotels, just be sure you call the hotel directly rather than dealing with the national reservations hotline.
Florida resident rates
It can be easy to forget that we live in the vacation state and that people from all over the country, and even the world, come here for fun and relaxation. Choosing to stay closer to home can definitely pay dividends for Florida residents. Most of the large attractions in our state, including Disney World, Universal, Sea World and Busch Gardens, all offer discount tickets and annual passes for Florida residents. Additionally, many resorts and hotels also have resident rates. Check their websites for specials, but if nothing is listed, don't hesitate to call and ask.
Cruising is also a potentially budget-friendly vacation option for Florida residents. We are the primary embarkation point for the majority of cruises going from the U.S. to the Caribbean. Living here enables us to forgo the cost of air travel many other people incur when taking a cruise. Plus, most of the major cruise lines sailing out of Florida offer residents special pricing, at least on select dates -- even Disney Cruises. Considering that cruise packages include almost all your meals and entertainment in the flat-per-person rate, families may find the total costs surprisingly low. Even more enticing, several cruise lines have introduced "kids sail free" offers, where anyone younger than 17 travels free with a matching full-fare guest.
Spring break off-season
Nothing says that you have to go anywhere during the peak time of spring break. Let the kids enjoy the time off school with no homework or other commitments, and you can relish in not running all over the place for a week. Save your time off and your money by traveling at times the rest of the world isn't. A large percentage of people living in Florida are here because they are not fans of snow and cold weather. While snow skiing may not be our thing, ski resorts in Colorado, Utah, Montana and California are often gorgeous during the summer and can offer Floridians cooler temps, quaint surroundings and lots of outdoorsy activities for half the price paid during the colder winter months. Research other off-season deals by visiting the tourism bureau websites for all 50 states, as well as specific cities, regions and even other countries on the Tourism Offices Worldwide Directory (towd.com).
Kira Lewis, Gannett