How to Save Money on Travel This Summer

CR asks readers and financial pros for tips on cutting the cost of a vacation

Beach chairs lined up close to the ocean with fabric made from $ bills Illustration: Kiersten Essenpreis

Thanks to inflation, some consumers have been forced to adjust or even cancel their vacation plans this summer. 

When you consider the cost of gasoline, plane tickets, hotels, and restaurant meals these days, it’s no surprise that people have had to rethink their travel plans. 

With that in mind, Consumer Reports asked readers as well as financial professionals to offer some tips to help cut travel costs. Here’s what they came up with.

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  • Choose a location closer to home. Instead of canceling his plans, Josh Pelletier, a Consumer Reports reader, recommends simply adjusting them. “If you can drive rather than fly, you’ll normally save money, especially for families,” says Pelletier, who recently moved from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Austin, Texas. Plus, he says, “you only need one automobile, which can make it significantly less expensive than purchasing four or five plane tickets.”
  • Get discounts at the gas pump. There are some great ways to save money at the pump. “Load a rewards credit card into the gas station’s payment app, which gives an additional 5 to 10 cents off per gallon when you pay that way,” says Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at Bankrate.com.
  • Use a gas station app or website. Smartphone apps, such as those from GasBuddy, AAA, and Gas Guru, are particularly convenient when you’re traveling and away from your computer. They’re available for Apple and Android devices. Many are free. You can filter results by fuel grade and sort by distance and price, as well as get GPS-guided directions to the station you choose.
  • Check opt-in travel perks on your credit card. Your current credit card may be offering travel perks but may require action on your part to benefit from them, says Jake Hill, CEO of DebtHammer, a three-year-old payday loan relief firm based in Austin, Texas. "Check your existing cards for opt-in deals,” says Hill. “While it’s not going to numb all of the pain to your wallet, getting 15 percent back on every transaction at a gas station, for example, is a great way to help ease that pain,” he says.
  • Look for cheaper airfares. Flying doesn’t need to be out of the question—although it may require some flexibility. Some tools like the Hopper mobile app and Google Flights can help calculate the best day to travel and give users charts to compare prices during selected periods of time. Pelletier has found that midweek flights often save money. “What I tend to do is time it just right,” he says. “A lot of times I’ll fly on a Tuesday or a Wednesday. I’ve found that even prices on Thursday tend to be high since people may be booking a long weekend.” Google’s tool showed that the price for a flight departing Monday-Friday from New York’s La Guardia airport to Raleigh Durham, North Carolina, for a seven-day trip in the third week of July, costs $238. A Saturday flight costs $293. And the Sunday flight is $315.
  • Consider less expensive lodging options. An Airbnb or Vrbo can be less expensive than a hotel, especially if you are traveling with a large party, according to Pelletier, adding that having a kitchen to prepare some of your meals, rather than dining out, can reduce costs as well. Plus, as a pet owner, he finds it easier to find lodging that accommodates his needs. “In my experience they’ve been cheaper and I actually prefer them. I have a dog and it’s easier to find an AirBnb that’s dog-friendly,” he says.
  • Look for free and inexpensive activities at popular tourist areas. Parks, beaches, and hiking trails are frequently unsung jewels. “I haven’t taken a restful vacation in some time, but I took a staycation in Austin and one of the things I did was go to Barton Springs downtown. It’s a cool, refreshing spot and it’s $3 to get in,” Pelletier says. “It’s super fun and there are miles of greenbelt. It’s nice to stroll and get a taco from a taco truck rather than a $15 appetizer at a restaurant.” Plus, he says, walking is an underrated way to spend time and relax.