No matter the size of our travel budget, we all want to feel as though we’re getting the best bang for our vacation buck. Follow these 5 tips and tricks from top travel experts to make the most of your vacation budget.

Passport, map, and money laying on hardwood floor background

1. Last-Minute Bargains

Depending on the timing of your travel, you can save a bundle by booking your hotel at the last minute. Hotels would far rather book a room for 20 to 30% off than have it sit empty for the night. So, call the hotel directly and ask them what kinds of deals are available. You can cancel most hotel reservations with 24 to 48 hours notice without a fee, so if you’ve already booked a room and find similar accommodations for less, you can either cancel your prior reservation, or call the hotel that you’re booked at to see if they can give you a comparable deal.

The last-minute bargain rule applies to cruises, too. If you’re willing to be spontaneous for your next vacation, deciding on a last-minute cruise can make your vacation dollar go much further. When people who booked their cabin early cancel at the last minute, bargain-priced lodging becomes available. You can find often find these incredible deals on sites such as LastMinuteTravel.com.

2. Book Smart for Group Travel

Whether you’re taking the grandkids on a trip to Disney or planning a family reunion in the Rocky Mountains, it pays to find the best deal for group lodging. Booking a suite for your family, for example, is nearly always a better deal than booking two separate standard rooms at a hotel. Many suite-hotel chains with kitchen facilities have special suite deals on the weekends and holidays, when business travel slows down.

You can also get the best lodging deal for a crowd by renting a furnished house instead of booking several rooms at a hotel. Websites like Homeaway.com make it simple to find the perfect home-away-from-home at your destination. Not only are the nightly rates more budget-friendly, you’ll also save a bundle with the option of cooking most of your meals in the kitchen instead of dining out. To give an example of the potential vacation savings: a three-bedroom home in Phoenix with a hot tub, heated pool, and Wi-Fi connection can cost $800 for seven nights, while three rooms’ worth of accommodations at a nearby hotel with comparable amenities costs $2,150 for the week.

3. Time Your Travel Carefully

Though it may be more convenient to travel on a Saturday or Sunday, your wallet will thank you for opting for a Tuesday or Wednesday flight. These are typically the least in-demand travel days among air travelers, and are therefore the least expensive. A Tuesday or Wednesday flight often costs 20% less than a weekend flight, which can really add up in a round-trip scenario.

It’s not only key to consider the timing of your flight, but also the timing of your purchase. Most airlines release their friendliest fares between Monday (after 3:00pm, ET) and Wednesday night, so this is the window in which you’ll want to surf the web for travel bargains. Airlines typically raise their fares between Thursday and Sunday, so while you may have the most downtime to book your travel on the weekends, you’re likely to find the fewest low fares on Saturday and Sunday. You can stay on top of fluctuating fares by signing up with AirfareWatchdog.com. This site will let you in on the little known “promo code fares” that are offered by individual airlines for certain dates and routes.

4. Embrace the Off-Season

Though the thought of Paris in the summertime sounds divine, it is less appealing when you consider that airline and lodging prices are at their highest during the summer months. This is the most popular time of year to travel to Europe, so of course the airlines and hotels will raise their rates to meet the high demand of summer tourists. Consider visiting Paris in the fall, and you’ll not only save 20 to 30% on air and lodging costs, you’ll also enjoy smaller crowds at the Louvre, shorter wait times at quaint cafes, and more peaceful moments strolling through the Jardin des Tuileries (as children are in school and are less likely to take European vacations with their families at this time of year).

You can benefit from off-season prices for a number of different kinds of vacations. Instead of planning a ski trip in December or January, head to Vail in March and you’ll still find excellent powder (March is the snowiest month in Colorado) for a better price. Hawaii is gorgeous year-round, and yet prices drop fairly dramatically during the spring and fall. Ironically, these are the best seasons to visit Hawaii, in terms of reliably beautiful weather. Whether you’re looking to save money, or you simply want to avoid the crowds, this is the best time to visit. Hotel rates and airfares tend to be significantly lower from mid-April to mid-June, and again from September through November.

5. Eat Well, but Eat Wisely

While airfare and lodging can put a major dent in your vacation budget, dining is another expense to consider curbing on your next trip. This isn’t to say that you should miss out on special restaurants or unique delicacies while traveling, rather that you should savor these dining experiences in the most economical way.

Fancy lunches are usually less expensive than fancy dinners, so call the critically acclaimed, highly rated restaurants at your destination and ask if you can make lunch reservations. In most cases, you’ll enjoy a similarly spectacular menu, with the same level of exceptional service, for a far more appetizing price.

Eating locally can also cut down on your food bill. When traveling abroad, consider trying the local beer, coffee, or food specialties, as many consumables are less expensive when they’re made in the country you’re visiting. It’s also a good idea to stop at the local supermarket to stock your hotel room with basic food items for your trip. Even if you don’t have a refrigerator available, nonperishable items like dried fruits, nuts, crackers and bottles of water will come in handy when you’re in a hurry and don’t want to break the bank at the hotel mini-bar.

Do you have a money-saving travel tip that you’d like to share? If so, feel free to leave a comment below.

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