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Getting the Most for Your Vacation and Travel Dollars

vacationJune 2008

These days, every fill-up of the family vehicle brings new sticker shock. The soft economy along with rising fuel prices have many people rethinking their summer travel and vacation plans. Before you decide simply to skip this year’s vacation, consider all the ways you can save money and still enjoy getting away. This month's report discusses ways to get the most for your travel dollars.

Road trips may still be a great idea

Even with the skyrocketing cost of gas, with the proper planning a road trip can still be both economical and enjoyable.

How can you get the most for your travel dollars?

  • For a road trip, consider exploring areas close to home.
  • Get better gas mileage by following these tips from fueleconomy.gov.
  • Take advantage of discounts offered to members of various organizations such as AAA or AARP.
  • Always compare prices and options.
  • Don't assume a package deal saves money.
  • Beware of "deals" that aren't deals at all or are scams.
  • Always read the fine print.
  • Save money by exploring areas close to home. Find nearby points of interest, attractions, and recreation areas by visiting local visitors centers’ websites or offices. Print travel guides for your area may also alert you to attractions new to you. Day trips allow you to save money by sleeping in your own bed.
  • Take advantage of discounts for lodging and attractions that are offered to members of various organizations such as AAA or AARP. Some of these discounts can be substantial.
  • To find the best gas prices in your area or the area you're visiting, start with the gas price data page on the fueleconomy.gov site.
  • For a longer trip, the AAA Fuel Cost Calculator can help you estimate the cost. Select from various starting points and destinations, select the make, model, and year of your vehicle and get an estimate of the number of miles, gallons used, and cost.
  • Before leaving on your trip, visit the National Traffic and Road Closure Information site for information about highway construction and possible traffic problems that could affect your trip.

Getting the Best Gas Mileage

To save money while you’re driving, use these tips for getting better gas mileage.

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  • A loaded roof rack increases aerodynamic drag and can decrease your fuel economy by 5 percent. So put items in the trunk or inside the vehicle whenever possible.
  • Pack light. Leave behind the heavy items. Every extra 100 pounds could reduce your vehicle's fuel economy by 1 - 2 percent.
  • Observe the speed limit. Gas mileage tends to decrease rapidly at speeds over 60 mph. The greater your speed the more often you’ll have to fill the tank.
  • Use cruise control. It helps you maintain a constant speed which typically saves gas.
  • Maintain your vehicle. Making sure that your car is properly tuned, the air filters are clean, the tires are properly inflated, and using the recommended grade of motor oil can increase your gas mileage by 10 percent or even more.

Visit fuelecomony.gov for more gas mileage tips.

Finding travel bargains online

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Finding travel bargains online isn’t as easy as most of the ads imply. But if you’re willing to work a little you can save. Here’s how to find the best deals.

  • Start by deleting all of your cookies from your web browser. These cookies can help track where you've been on the Internet and what you've purchased. If you don't delete your cookies, you may be charged a higher rate because of your purchase history.
  • Always compare options.
    • Don’t assume that major online travel sites have the best deals—often they may not. Online travel sites can only show the fares or rates of those businesses—airlines, hotels, rental cars, etc— that choose to be included on the sites and then the sites can offer only the “deals” that each business provides. Many companies reserve the best fares or rates for their own sites. You won’t know if you don’t compare.
    • Booking directly on the airline, hotel, or rental car site may yield the best rate. You'll avoid paying the commission and fees charged by third-party sites. You may even get the best rate by picking up the phone and calling.
    • Be flexible with your travel dates when looking at airline fares. Starting your vacation in the middle of the week or including a Saturday night stay will usually result in a lower cost ticket. Consider alternative airports: airlines often provide lower fares in competitive markets or for airports where they are trying to increase bookings. Booking your flight at least 21 days in advance can also result in a lower fare. Also keep an eye for rate sales: if you are flexible about departure times, some airlines often post last-minute rate sales.
    • When checking fares, you'll also need to take into consideration other fees that most airlines charge. Checking more than one bag will cost you. A second checked bag typically costs $25 but the fee escalates with each additional bag. Other charges include a bag being overweight or oversized. If you don't pack properly you could get hit with all 3 charges.
  • Don't assume a package deal saves money. Always compare the price of the package deal with purchasing each service separately.
  • When searching for cruises use a site that specializes in cruises. Or talk to a well-established local travel agent—this is an area where going to a good travel agent can save your dollars and disappointment.
  • Take advantage of discounts offered to members of AAA and AARP.
  • Sign up for free e-mail newsletters that list deals for airfare, hotels, packages, cruises, and more. Remember to check out the producer of the newsletter before signing up.
  • Sign up for email alerts from the airlines or travel sites that provide information on price drops and promotions.

Don’t let travel scams wreck your vacation

When looking for bargains, beware of “deals” that aren't deals at all or are scams. Here are some of the most common to watch out for.

Free vacations. These scams arrive by mail or e-mail and announce that you've won a trip. The catch is that you have to pay a processing fee. In most instances the processing fee is more than the cost of a similar trip. In addition, some of these scams include a 900 number that you must call to claim the trip. Calls to 900 numbers are not toll-free and can have exorbitant per minute charges.

Become a travel agent. The pitch is that for a fee, you'll get a travel agent ID that allows you to qualify for the discounts and upgrades that are available to travel agents. The ID isn't recognized by the travel industry.

Vacation certificates. These certificates promise low-cost vacations but don't deliver. Some certificates are hard to redeem because they are valid only for certain dates and expire before they can be redeemed. With other certificates you may actually make the trip but there are "extra" expenses and fees that aren't disclosed which can add up to more than the cost of a similar trip or package.

These tips can help you avoid travel scams:

  • Always read the fine print.
  • Always get all the details in writing, including total cost, cancellation and refund policies, before paying. If you are purchasing a package, get the names of all the travel providers — airlines, hotels, car rental companies, etc. Call all the providers to confirm the arrangements.
  • Check out the costs for similar trips, so you know what you should be paying and you can recognize "too good to be true" offers.
  • Check out any business with the Better Business Bureau or state consumer office before providing them any payment or personal information.
  • Use a credit card instead of a check, cash, or debit card to make the purchase. Using a credit card may allow you to dispute the charges with the credit card company if don't get what you paid for.

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