7 Ways to Save on Summer Travel in 2023

7 Ways to Save on Summer Travel in 2023

Key points

  • Travel credit cards can help you save in multiple ways, from redeeming rewards and travel credits to making use of valuable perks and benefits.
  • The more flexible you are about your travels, the more affordable it will be.
  • Pack less, travel together, and be creative about when, where, and how you travel.

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Depending on your destination, the cost of a family summer vacation can easily get into the four digits. But you don’t necessarily need to drain your bank account just to have a good time this summer. There are all kinds of ways to save money on your vacation, from credit cards to carpools. Here are some tips to consider.

1. Redeeming rewards

My favorite way to save on travel expenses is to redeem travel rewards instead of paying cash. This could be a reward you earn with a travel credit card or loyalty points picked up on previous trips.

Pro tip: Don’t assume every redemption is a good redemption. Divide the cash cost of the room by the number of points you’d need to redeem to see the per-point cost. You want your per-point value to be as high as possible.

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Travel credits and free night certificates can also be great tools for scoring free travel. For example, your card may offer you an annual statement of credit you can use toward travel purchases. This can be far more convenient than redeeming rewards, as it typically doesn’t require looking for award space. Similarly, many hotel cards can pay for themselves in free night certificates alone if you’re a little strategic about when and where you redeem them.

2. Maximizing perks

Travel cards, elite status, special booking deals — there are all kinds of ways to get valuable travel perks. For example, the elite status of your hotel credit card can help you score free breakfast or a room upgrade. Airline credit cards often give you free checked bags.

Many issuers also have travel portals through which you can book your vacation, often with extra perks. American Express’s Fine Hotels & Resorts program, for example, can unlock all sorts of extras, like 4 pm check-out (terms apply). Chase’s Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection comes with similar benefits.

3. Sharing the burden

Do you have some friends or family members who are also planning a summer vacation? Consider vacationing together! A larger group can actually make your per-person costs much lower, especially when it comes to housing and activities. Renting a vacation house with room for two families, for example, could be cheaper than trying to rent multiple hotel rooms.

Many activities you may want to experience can also be made cheaper with larger groups. Tours, excursions, and other activities often have group discounts that your smaller family may not qualify for — but your multi-family group could.

4. Packing light

The easiest way to increase your travel costs is to pack too much stuff. Checked bags alone can easily run you $30 a pop. But even if you’re doing carry-on only, you could be looking at extra costs. Discount airlines often have remarkably affordable deals — provided you don’t need overhead bin space.

It’s not just flights, either. More luggage means a larger rental car, more space in your hotel room, maybe even paying for bag storage if your flight arrives before you can check into your hotel. Overall, one-bagging your trip could substantially reduce your per-person travel costs.

5. Being flexible

This is arguably the most important tip on this entire list when it comes to saving money on travel, especially during the busy summer season. When possible, be flexible about when you travel, how you travel, and even where you travel.

Avoid traveling around major summer holidays (July 4, Memorial Day, Labor Day) if you can. If you’re flying, make sure to look up deals for all of your nearby airports. (Driving a little further to another airport can be well worth it if you can save money or find better award availability.)

If you’re renting a car, consider whether taking a taxi away from the airport to pick up a car will save you money. Picking up your car at the airport usually means paying a few surcharges.

6. Finding fun for free

It can be really easy to get caught up in the idea that you need to do something BIG on your summer vacation, like hitting a theme park or a major landmark. But these popular activities tend to be very expensive, particularly during peak season.

With a little research, you can easily find tons of free — or at least affordable — activities to keep your family entertained. Even if you still want to hit the parks, you can supplement your activities with a few free museums, nature walks or outdoor concerts.

7. Earning bonuses

Alright, so this one is most likely going to save you on yours next vacation, rather than your summer travel. But if you open a new card before booking, you could potentially earn a big sign-up bonus you can redeem in the future, all by just booking the travel you were going to buy anyway.

That said, your sign-up bonus could also be used to help pay for your summer vacation if it’s in the right currency. For example, if you earn your bonus quickly, you could potentially redeem it for cash back or a statement of credit to cover your current expenses.

Mix and match for the best results

Summer vacations are a cornerstone of American life. But the fact that we all tend to travel at the same time — and to the same places — means it’s often a pricey experience. Hopefully, with a bit of mixing and matching, you can use these tips (and any of the thousands of others all over the internet!) to make your summer vacation not only more affordable, but maybe even more fun, too.

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