Jill Cataldo

Jill Cataldo

“Dear Jill,

You have written about travel on occasion. We would love to take a vacation as it has been so long since we went anywhere special.

I would like to know how to save specifically on airline tickets.

If you have hotel savings tips, I would welcome those, too.”

Sonora C.

Our family loves to travel, and we’ve been blessed to visit many states in our own country, as well as several other countries around the world.

No matter where we go, we aim to stretch our dollars as much as possible, getting maximum value for our vacation budget.

Here are some of my favorite tips for saving on travel.

Be flexible about where and when you want to go.

You’ll likely pay much more for airfare booked months ahead of time than if you wait until your target vacation time draws nearer.

You’ll often find less-expensive travel deals the closer you get to your travel dates.

Some of my best airfare deals have been booked weeks ahead of our trip. For example, we recently went to Japan.

We’d been talking about going for quite some time, but searching airfares between my home airport, Chicago, and Tokyo returned round-trip fares of $1,200 to $1,500. We were content to let our dreams of Japan wait until the airfare became more reasonable.

In December, the airfares took a big dip, dropping to $540 per person. We booked our flights just 35 days before we left for our trip! This brings me to my next tip …

Let airfare watch websites alert you to flight deals.

Certainly, you can search your favorite travel sites each day to see what the airfares are doing price-wise, but it’s easier to let someone else do that work for you.

Enter “airfare watch alerts” into your favorite search engine, and you’ll find plenty of websites that will track airfares for you between your home airport and any cities you’d like.

With many sites, you can even enter a maximum dollar amount you wish to pay per flight, and the site will only alert you when prices drop below that threshold.

I have alerts set up for many of our favorite destinations, and I automatically receive an email when the airfares drop under my specified threshold to each city.

Sign up for deal alerts from favorite resorts’ websites. Many resorts offer special room rates to subscribers of their email lists or newsletters.

If the resort is under-booked, you may receive bargain-basement rates for the property, though you’ll likely have to plan a trip quickly to take advantage of them.

I subscribe to several resorts’ lists that are within driving distance of home, so if I’m alerted of a great rate, we can plan an impromptu weekend away.

Take advantage of loyalty cards, points and miles. I believe it’s worth signing up for hotel loyalty points, even if you’re not a frequent traveler, as these can qualify you for room upgrades, free internet or complimentary beverages at your hotel.

Some credit cards earn hotel points or airline miles too, which can be redeemed for free and discounted hotel stays or flights.

One of my credit cards earns hotel points, which accrue much more quickly than you might imagine. I don’t consider myself to be a big spender, but by using this card for all of my business expenses, I typically earn enough points for four or five free hotel nights each year.

This chain of hotels also offers free breakfasts to loyalty points members, and that’s a wonderful perk to take advantage of when our entire family is traveling together.

Meals while traveling can quickly add up, and knowing that one meal each day will be complimentary also maximizes our dining budget for other meals.

Finally, be willing to let the vacation go if everything doesn’t quite fall into place.

We’ve taken many spontaneous vacations, but we’ve also let plenty of vacations-in-planning go if everything didn’t quite fit the dates and budget for which we were aiming. Be mindful of your maximum budget and stick to it.

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Email your own couponing victories and questions to jill@supercouponing.com.