A master travel hacker shows you how to save on your summer plans

Mom and son take a selfie while relaxing on a tropical beach

Summer is right around the corner, and you might be looking forward to backyard barbecues and beach reads. Summer can also be a great time to get on the road and see new sights or visit friends and family.

The problem with finding good summer travel deals is that everyone else is looking for them, too. High demand can push prices up and availability down. Here are a few tips to help you keep family travel costs low as much as possible.

How to find the best travel deals for summer

Tip #1: Be flexible with your travel route

Generally, if you’re looking for cash prices on flights or hotels, it costs what it costs. Still, there are a few things that you can do to find summer travel deals.

One of the most useful tricks is to remain as flexible as possible with your locations. Of course, if you’re visiting friends or family, then you have to go where they are. But you can be flexible in other ways. For example, check nearby airports at your origin and destination. You could save money by flying in and out of an airport other than the one closest to you. Even if this means you have to overnight in another city, it could be to your advantage if you’re able to make the stopover part of your vacation.

Best days to travel for couples and families

Tip #2: Be flexible with your travel dates

If you can adjust your travel dates forward or back, you might end up with a big win. For example, if you travel out on Thursday night before Labor Day weekend and back on Tuesday night, you might get a six-day vacation for a fraction of the Friday-to-Monday Labor Day travel price, and with only three days off work.

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Best credit cards to use for summer travel

Tip #3: Be mindful of your credit card strategy

When it comes to using a credit card for your summer expenses, choose the one that will deliver the rewards you value the most. That means different things to different people.

For example, some people like to use a credit card that pays extra points/miles for travel or restaurant purchases. Others don’t play the points or cash back game and would rather opt for the credit card that is designated for household expenses, or the one that has the lowest interest rate in case the balance isn’t paid back in full at the end of the month.

The best card for you to use depends on your own financial situation.

You could also opt to pay cash and/or use a debit card. But keep in mind that many credit cards offer additional benefits that can come in very handy. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card reimburses cardholders for the first $300 in travel expenses each year. This card also reimburses your meals and lodging, up to a maximum, if your trip is delayed more than six hours. The Marriott Bonvoy™ credit cards come with complimentary Silver Elite status at the 6,700 hotels now in the Marriott family. One benefit of this is that the cardholder can get free in-room Wi-Fi when the room is booked on the Marriott website or app. Keep in mind that these offers and benefits can change at any time and are subject to terms and conditions that you should review carefully before using your credit card of choice.

Best places to search for travel bargains

Tip #4: Lock it in

Even if you have enough points for a free ticket, you might have a hard time finding award availability in the summer. That’s because only a set number of award seats are available on each flight, and many people compete to get them. If you want to use your airline miles, you may need to be very flexible, get very lucky, or pay a premium on your airline mile redemption. The notable exception is Southwest Airlines©, which allows reward points to be redeemed for any seat on any plane on any day.

If you’re paying cash, Google Flights© has a good interface that can show you different prices on different days and for different locations.

Hotel awards can be easier to redeem. If you’ve got a credit card that gives you a free night every year, a summer weekend can be a great time to redeem that certificate on a room rather than pay peak prices.

For transportation and lodging, you might not want to hold out for a sale, especially on high-demand days. If you see something that works for your trip and is in your budget, consider booking it quickly before availability is even lower. If nothing works for your budget, especially for those of us with large families, why not become a road warrior this year?

Summer travel strategies

If you’re wondering about last-minute deals, that shows exemplary flexibility, which will surely benefit you in the long run. However, last-minute grabs are harder to get on popular travel days. Definitely check, all the way up to the day of summer break, if you haven’t booked anything prior. But in my experience, the best way to make the most of summer weekend travel, and beat the average cost of family vacations, is to plan ahead.

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Dan Miller runs Points With A Crew – a travel site focusing on helping families (especially larger families) travel for free/cheap. Since 2013, he has used miles and points to travel with his wife and 6 children to California, Yellowstone, Puerto Rico, Disney World, Sweden, Greece, Peru, and more.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own. Haven Life Insurance Agency offers this as educational information only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies or offer the products, services and/or strategies discussed here.  

Chase Sapphire Reserve is a registered trademark of JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Marriott Bonvoy is a trademark of Marriott International, Inc.

Southwest Airlines is a copyright of Southwest Airlines Co.

Google Flights is a copyright of Google LLC.

Haven Term is a Term Life Insurance Policy (DTC 042017 [OK1] and ICC17DTC in certain states, including NC) issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111-0001 and offered exclusively through Haven Life Insurance Agency, LLC. Policy and rider form numbers and features may vary by state and may not be available in all states. In NY, Haven Term is DTC-NY 1017. In CA, Haven Term is DTC-CA 042017. Our Agency license number in California is OK71922 and in Arkansas, 100139527.

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