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13 Tips To Save Money on (And Survive) Summer Travel [2024]

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Lori Zaino
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Lori Zaino

Senior Content Contributor

48 Published Articles

Countries Visited: 58U.S. States Visited: 40

Lori is an intrepid traveler who loves creating itineraries that exude “luxe on a budget.” She’s written for CNN, NBC, The Infatuation, and more, and loves to muse about points-fueled trips to Sri Lan...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

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With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now Editor-in-Chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...
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Jessica Merritt

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A long-time points and miles student, Jessica is the former Personal Finance Managing Editor at U.S. News and World Report and is passionate about helping consumers fund their travels for as little ca...

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If you’re planning to travel this summer, you may be feeling the pain of sticker shock. Prices seem exorbitant for just about everything, including hotels, airfare, vacation rentals, car rentals, train tickets, and more. There is good news: domestic airfare may drop by up to 16% in 2024 compared to 2023 at certain times of the year, according to data from Kayak. However, those planning international travel should still plan to spend, as the same data states that international airfare is up 10% compared to last year.

While it’s true that you might have to spend just a little bit more to have that much-needed summer vacation, there are ways you can save money on summer travel. Savings are available whether you’re dipping into that hard-earned points stash, getting a credit card that offers car rental elite status, or staying flexible with dates and being open to alternative destinations.

Here are 13 ways to save money on summer travel so that you can enjoy a fabulous summer vacation without breaking the bank — and while surviving the busy summer travel season.

1. Be Flexible With Dates

Shift Your Dates Earlier

This can mean many, many things when it comes to summer travel. We know sometimes it’s nearly impossible to avoid traveling when you have that Fourth of July family reunion, Memorial Day destination wedding, or have to follow the kids’ summer break schedules. If you can, consider trying to take advantage of the very early, or even pre-summer shoulder season.

According to data from Expedia, airfare tends to stabilize in the period after spring break but before summer travel really kicks off. If you’re able to shift your trip to early May instead of mid-July, you could save a significant amount on travel costs. Another perk? You can avoid vacationing during some of the worst heat waves, which tend to occur in many popular destinations (like Europe) during July and August.

Be Flexible With Your Travel Dates

Beyond shifting your summer travel earlier, simply being flexible with dates may make some difference. For no apparent reason at all, hotel dates or flights may be cheaper on one June date than another, or staying an extra few days in your destination may mean that a return flight is much cheaper. Try searching for flexible dates when looking for airfare, hotel, and car rentals to really see what you can find.

2. Consider Off-Peak Season Abroad

Europe

Most kids are still in school in June in Europe, and many cities in Southern Europe are all but deserted in August when extreme heat means most locals are at the beach. You might find that visiting a city like Paris or Rome in the heart of the European summer isn’t as expensive as you might think. Just be prepared for hot weather.

Off-peak award dates may vary on international airlines, too. For example, the first 3 weeks of June are mostly considered off-peak by Spain’s Iberia, where kids remain in school until nearly the end of the month. This means if you plan a trip to Spain during the first 3 weeks of June, you’ll likely be able to get off-peak award rates during this time. Alternatively, a trip to Ireland would be ideal in September or October (or beyond, if you’re willing to consider a fall visit) when Aer Lingus’ off-peak dates run from September 2, 2024, all the way through December 12, 2024.

The Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico

Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30. However, according to the National Hurricane Center, most cyclonic activity occurs between mid-August and mid-October, and the most popular date for a hurricane is September 10.

What does this mean for summer travelers? You may be able to get more affordable pricing but avoid severe weather when traveling to these destinations in June or July. Remember some countries — like Aruba, Barbados, Bonaire, Curaçao, Grenada, Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago — sit outside the Atlantic hurricane belt and may offer cheaper vacations than what you’d pay to rent a lake house in a place like Michigan during the summer, for example.

We recommend using a credit card with travel insurance to book your trip, though, because you never know when it comes to the weather.

Hot Tip:

Save money on airfare by learning about the best ways to fly to the Caribbean with points and miles.

3. Be Open to Alternative Destinations

We’ve suggested some ideal destinations and times to visit Europe and the Caribbean, but it’s also important to select more affordable destinations. You can get to those pricier spots like St. Barths, New York City, and London eventually, but this may be the summer to “go rogue” and instead visit less expensive spots like Athens, Budapest, Cartagena, Chicago, Málaga, Marrakesh, Mexico City, Porto, St. Louis, U.S. national parks, and beyond.

Go Where Your U.S. Dollars Stretch

Sri Lankan Beach by Tomas Malik on Unsplash
Your money can stretch further in Sri Lanka. Image Credit: Tomáš Malík via Unsplash

If you’re ready to really go far-flung but also save money, avoid trendy and expensive destinations like the Maldives or Hawaii. Instead, consider islands in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, or Thailand, where your money gives you impressive spending power.

The dollar and the euro are still hovering close to each other, so this summer could be the perfect time to go to Europe and see those dollars go further. As we mentioned above, skip some of the trendiest and most popular destinations that tend to be expensive, like Paris (especially thanks to the 2024 Summer Olympics) and London. Instead, opt for affordable Eastern European countries or secondary cities in Mediterranean countries.

4. Take Advantage of Credit Card Perks

Many premium credit cards come with hefty annual fees, but in many cases, those fees are offset by perks and benefits that can save you money.

Flexible Travel Rewards Cards for Statement Fees, Credits, Lounge Access, and More

Some of the most valuable rewards are offered on flexible travel rewards cards. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers a travel credit of up to $300, and The Platinum Card® from American Express offers statement credits and additional perks for booking The Hotel Collection and American Express Fine Hotels + Resorts properties.

Each of these cards also offers varying levels of lounge access at airports, too, which can save you money on food and your airport experience a little less stressful.

Some flexible cards also give you perks like car rental and hotel elite status, discounts and time-sensitive credits for purchasing from specific travel vendors, and other useful travel perks.

Hot Tip:

Don’t forget to check your Amex OffersChase OffersCiti Merchant Offers, and Capital One Offers, as these can save you money on flights, hotels, vacation rentals, and more.

Co-Branded Cards for Benefits at Airlines and Hotels

Many airline and hotel co-branded credit cards offer elite status or ways to earn points and miles that can get you to status or a companion pass faster. These cards often offer perks like a free checked bag, upgrades, and priority boarding — all benefits that can save you money and make your travel experience better.

5. Open a New Credit Card and Get a Welcome Bonus

If you really need a quick infusion of points to use for summer travel, open a new credit card now. Then, make sure to meet the spending threshold so you’ll earn those coveted bonus points in time to use them for a summer award redemption. Welcome bonuses ebb and flow, so you’ll obviously want to find a card with a high bonus. That said, it’s also important to get a card with a points currency you’ll use. If you’re dying to visit a specific destination, but there aren’t any Hilton hotels there, skip getting a Hilton co-branded card. This is why flexible travel rewards cards, or cards where you can transfer points to various travel partners, are ideal.

Doing some light research and having a general summer vacation plan in mind (or a few different options) can also help you narrow down the best card to get so you’ll be able to utilize the bonus points or miles for your trip.

Hot Tip:

Looking for a big introductory bonus? These credit cards have some of the best sign-up bonuses, so you can rake in those points and miles. 

6. Use Your Points (And Get Creative)

There are 2 times when your points become the most valuable:

  • When you desperately need them for an emergency or something last-minute
  • When cash prices for hotels and airfare are high

This summer, when prices for flights and accommodation are high, would be an ideal time to dip into your points stash — and you may want to get creative in doing so. While it can be easy to simply use your flexible reward points to book travel in credit card travel portals, you’ll obtain a much higher value from your points if you transfer them, which gives you endless opportunities to think outside the box when it comes to airlines, routes, hotels, and more.

If you have fixed points currencies, like Delta SkyMiles, remember to search awards on partner airlines, too, which can offer additional flexibility and options. Just don’t forget to factor in taxes and fees, though, which can sometimes add a significant amount of money to an award redemption.

Hot Tip:

Don’t throw in the towel if you can’t find your perfect redemption. Sometimes it takes some energy and time to figure out how to best utilize your points, but when you do, you can really save money. If you really don’t understand how to use your points and miles, consider using a service like Point.me for help.

6. Drive vs. Fly vs. Train

While we love booking award flights here at Upgraded Points, we recognize there’s a time and a place for road trips and train trips, too.

If you’re heading somewhere and you’re not sure the best way to get there, research to see which option is the most cost-effective. Obviously, if you’re heading to Hawaii from Chicago, you’ll want to fly. But if you’re figuring out the best way to get from London to Paris or from New York to Boston, you have more options, so it’s best to compare pricing before selecting transportation.

7. Consider Alternative Accommodations or Vacation Rentals

Vacation Rentals

A vacation rental in the woods
Opting for a vacation rental over a hotel can offer significant summer travel savings. Image Credit: Cara Fuller via Unsplash

Vacation rentals can offer significant savings compared to hotels, especially when you factor in costs like cooking meals in your rental vs. dining out and having the ability to do laundry or park for free. Vacation rentals sometimes offer weekly or monthly discounts, and you may find that certain credit cards may give you statement credits for booking at certain vacation rental providers such as Airbnb or Vrbo. Plus, many popular OTAs like Hotels.com and Booking.com now offer home rental bookings, too, making it easier than ever to compare prices and select the right accommodation for your trip.

Alternative Accommodations

Thinking outside the box when it comes to accommodations may offer some truly unique and interesting experiences. Heading to Japan? Try a capsule hotel. Did you know you can stay at monasteries and agriturismos (farm stay B&Bs) in Italy on the cheap? And you don’t have to be a backpacker to take advantage of certain hostels in Europe and Asia. Some of the hippest new accommodation brands are hostels, like the Generator brand, and hostels in countries such as Portugal and Spain are often more like family-owned B&Bs, where each double room features a private bathroom, and you can head downstairs for breakfast each morning.

Finally, if you feel comfortable letting guests stay in your own home, consider a home swap. You may end up with some seriously luxurious digs in pricey and desirable destinations. Think a villa on the French Riviera or a beachfront apartment in Turks and Caicos, just because your Brooklyn studio or suburban yard seems exotic to others.

8. Book Flights at the Right Times

International Flights

You may want to start organizing your summer vacation right about now, especially if you’re traveling abroad during peak periods. According to Expedia’s 2024 Air Travel Hacks Report, “international airfare should be booked around 60 days out for optimal availability and savings (around 10% on average).”

Domestic Flights

For those traveling around the U.S., data from the same report shows that “domestic airfare should be booked 28 days before departure,” which can help travelers save up to 24% compared to booking at the last minute. It’s worth monitoring flights and setting up alerts (for both cash prices and award availability) so that you’ll be notified of price drops.

Hot Tip:

If you’re booking a trip that’s tied to a holiday weekend or isn’t at all flexible, like a wedding or graduation, it may be best to book sooner for peace of mind and the best deals. Expedia’s study also showed that booking flights on a Sunday versus a Friday can often save you up to 13%.

9. Use the Right Credit Card Abroad

If you’re traveling outside of the U.S., make sure to use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. Avoid dynamic currency conversion by always paying in the local currency versus U.S. dollars when traveling abroad, so you won’t be charged additional fees beyond the exchange rate.

11. Fly Low-Cost Carriers

Spirit Airlines
Flying Spirit may not be a prime travel experience, but it can save you money. Image Credit: Forsaken Films via Unsplash

I know the words Spirit and Ryanair can be terrifying for the average traveler, but you may save significant amounts of money if you fly low-cost, especially if you don’t have a big stash of points and miles.

The most important thing to do when flying low-cost carriers is to read the fine print. This is especially important when it comes to extras like seat selection, checking bags, or even carry-on baggage. If you get an incredible deal but have to pay $90 to check your surfboard at the airport or $40 because your carry-on bag is an inch too wide, this will negate the savings.

Bottom Line:

Calculate the price of a low-cost carrier with all the bells and whistles you need included, then compare it to the price of a full-fare carrier before making any decisions.

12. Book Refundable Stays and Flexible Fares

If we learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that things can always go wrong. In the summer of 2023, it seemed like we were still dealing with the pandemic’s fallout on travel — long lines, airport chaos, and lost luggage — due to a lack of staffing and general disorganization. There were also wildfires, heat waves, hurricanes, and massive crowds at some of the world’s top tourist attractions (think 2-hour-long waits outside the Acropolis).

While summer 2024 features a new ticketing system at the Acropolis designed to fight over-tourism, who knows what wrath climate change, staffing issues, and beyond will bring on travelers this June, July, and August. Avoid losing your hard-earned money if you have to change or cancel a trip by booking refundable, cancelable accommodation, and refundable or changeable airfare. You may also want to get trip insurance (or see what type of insurance your credit cards offer) before traveling.

13. Prepare for a Wild Summer Travel Adventure

Remember the hot mess that was summer travel in 2023 (and 2022)? While we have high hopes for this summer, we won’t be surprised if things go awry. Hopefully, you’ve armed yourself with refundable bookings and travel insurance, but in the case that you go ahead with your travel plans, despite possible roadblocks or travel frustrations, here are some final tips to help you save money and avoid hassle when traveling this summer.

Book Direct

Summer travel, just like any travel, can go awry due to weather, short staffing, delays, and many other reasons. If your flight is canceled or delayed, it’ll make things a lot easier for you if you’ve booked direct. If you prefer to book with an OTA, make sure it’s a reputable one, so you’ll get your money back if your trip is canceled.

Know Your Rights

Understanding your rights in the case of delays, cancelations, and other flight issues is important. The Department of Transportation is the best way to get information for U.S.-based airlines, but if your flight to or from Europe is delayed, you’ll want to read more about the EU 261 rules, which can refund you money if your flight has been significantly delayed or canceled.

Get to the Airport Early

You may as well go into your summer vacation expecting delays and lines. Obviously, those aforementioned credit card benefits can help — we love a card that offers a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit — but it’s still a good plan to get to the airport early. If you miss your flight because the security line was too long, last-minute summer airfare will cost you a pretty penny.

An airport check in area
Getting to the airport early this summer can help avoid lines and waits. Image Credit: Phil Mosley via Unsplash

Skip Checking Bags

You may recall reading about the massive mishandling of luggage in 2022. This was when airlines around the world were basically tossing people’s luggage anywhere and everywhere. Although 2023 showed some signs of improvement, the rate of mishandled bags in July 2023 was 0.75%, according to the Bureau of Transportation. It may be a good plan to skip checking a bag this summer, or at least plan to pack thoughtfully to ensure you won’t end up in Cancún without a swimsuit or in the Alps without your hiking boots.

Use AirTags

Some of us are heavy packers, and if you’re part of this category, you know that change just isn’t possible. If you do need to check a bag, use an AirTag or other tracking device, which can help you locate the bag if the airline loses it.

Pad Your Dates

We’re not trying to say to expect the worst from summer travel, but if you have a really important event to get to, like a wedding or graduation, pad your dates, especially if your trip involves changing planes. This way, if you have flight issues, you won’t miss your event, even if you have to fly out a day or 2 later than planned.

Final Thoughts

Summer travel is glorious, carefree, and perfect for making lifelong memories. Or, at least, that’s how it should be, but high prices and crowded airports can sometimes put a damper on things. This season, follow these tips to ensure you’ll not only be able to afford to go on vacation but you’ll also have an easy and hassle-free travel experience.

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I save money on summer holidays?

Save money on summer travel by dipping into your stash of points and miles, staying flexible with dates and destinations, and thinking outside the box when it comes to accommodations. Don’t forget to use the travel benefits and perks that come with your travel rewards credit cards, too.

How do I budget for a summer trip?

Budgeting for a summer trip is just as much about putting cash aside as it is maximizing points and miles. Opening a new credit card to get points from an introductory bonus is a great way to bank up points. Booking flights and accommodations at the right time and staying flexible with dates can make a summer trip more affordable.

How do I prepare for summer travel?

Preparing for summer travel means budgeting points, miles, and cash for your trip, getting to the airport with plenty of time, and ensuring all your essentials are packed in your carry-on luggage. Skipping checking a bag altogether is an easy way to avoid lost luggage, and if you must check a bag, consider using an AirTag to track it.

How can I make travel cheaper?

Consider flying low-cost carriers, staying flexible with dates, and booking your tickets in advance to make travel more affordable. While summer travel is usually more expensive, playing around with dates and choosing alternative accommodation can also make travel more cost-effective, especially around peak dates.

Lori Zaino's image

About Lori Zaino

Lori is an intrepid traveler who loves creating itineraries that exude “luxe on a budget.” She’s written for CNN, NBC, The Infatuation, and more, and loves to muse about points-fueled trips to Sri Lanka, Sicily, and Myanmar.

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