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Ten Ways To Stretch Your Vacation Budget

(January 2002)

Getting a bigger bang for your vacation buck is easier than you think. Here are some simple tips:

Start Planning Early.

If you plan ahead, you will have plenty of time to research your options and will be more likely to get the vacation you want. Popular hotels and cruises are often reserved as much as a year in advance during peak seasons. With early planning, you can also take advantage of early-booking incentives, especially on cruises.

Vacation in the Off-Season.

Vacationing in the off-season can often get you more savings, while still allowing you to travel during favorable weather conditions. For travel in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Florida, rates are significantly lower between May and mid-December, excluding major holidays. Lodging rates at popular summer spots along the Eastern Seaboard such as Maine, Cape Cod, the Jersey Shore, Outer Banks, and Hilton Head drop off right after Labor Day.

Find a Good Travel Agent.

More often than not, travel agents' expertise and knowledge will save you time and money. Look for an agent who specializes in the type of vacation you are seeking. Most importantly, find an agent who takes the time to find out what your best options are.

Consider Package Deals.

Vacation packages often provide upgraded rooms and additional perks such as free tours. Some include airfare, rental car, and meals. Often, the airfare is cheaper in package deals because tour operators and cruise lines can buy "bulk rate" airfares, which they then sell to you at a lower price. Essentially, these "all-inclusive" packages make budgeting easy by providing everything at one price.

Check Out the Specifics.

Be sure that the package you choose provides the vacation you want, and keep in mind that low package prices may be based on less desirable hotels or rooms. Find out whether the hotel has the location and amenities you expect. Also learn what is and what is not included. Surcharges and taxes can add up to a considerable surprise.

Go Native and Rent a House or Condo.

You can save big bucks when you rent a house or condominium, especially if you are traveling in a group of five or more.

Investigate Airfares.

With some savvy research, you can easily cut your airfare by hundreds of dollars. Sign up for Travelocity's Fare Watcher and Expedia's Fare Tracker. These sites allow you to track city pairs to get a feel for airfare prices at certain times of the year. They will also send you an e-mail alert when the prices change by $25 or more.

Also, when shopping around for fares, whether by airline or travel agent, always ask the following questions: Is this the best fare for this route? Would changing departure times or travel dates lower the fare? Would the fare be lower from a nearby airport? Also inquire about reliable charter airlines available to your destination.

Lastly, don't forget to check Smarter Living for last-minute bargain airfares.

Arrange Your Car Rental in Advance.

You'll pay the highest rate at the airport if you arrive without a reservation. Shop around ahead of time on the rental car websites for the best deals. Also, if you are a frequent flier, check your mileage statements for deals.

Furthermore, don't get ripped off by buying unnecessary car insurance coverage. Check with your own car insurance agent and credit card companies to see what coverage they provide for rental cars. If you are covered in the countries in which you plan to drive, you can decline the rental company's coverage, saving $15 or more a day.

Also remember that if you are under 25, or have been involved in a car accident in the past two years, you may be refused a car, or asked to pay a surcharge, when you reach the counter. Check before you go to avoid a last-minute surprise.

Send for Free Information.

Tourism offices are happy to provide free hotel, restaurant, and activity brochures that offer many deals. Also, ask about free events and visitors' discounts.

Tell Everyone About Your Birthday.

If you are celebrating a special occasion such as a birthday, anniversary, or honeymoon, tell everybody! Often you're likely to enjoy special treatment such as complimentary champagne, birthday cake, flowers, balloons, or a gift basket.

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