Chances are, you’re over the bitterly cold temps much of the U.S. has been experiencing this winter, and are desperately seeking sun on a spring vacation. But that doesn’t mean you should overpay for the pleasure. Here’s how to plan a budget getaway that doesn’t feel like it.
1. Use points and credit card rewards
You know this, but it’s worth a reminder: travel card rewards, hotel points, airline miles, an untouched balance from your cash-back card—cash them all in if you can. You can use them toward flights, hotels, even rental cars.
2. Be flexible
A few small changes can yield hundreds in savings.
Travel dates: Try traveling right before or after “peak season,” allowing you to save big and avoid crowds, says Isar Meitis of Last Minute Travel. So, instead of hitting Cancún in late March, when it’s besieged with spring breakers, scout deals in mid-April.
And if you’re planning a long weekend, take Monday off work instead of Friday. Sunday is typically the cheapest weeknight at a hotel, Meitis adds.
Peak travel season in Costa Rica is December to May.
Destination: Take the “road less traveled”—literally—suggests travel blogger Nate Hake. For example, consider Nicaragua over “it” destination Costa Rica for a cheaper jungle zip-lining and surfing experience. “Or try Tbilisi, Georgia, rather than Prague or Vienna, for your quintessential historic Old Town with delicious food and culture,” he says.
Airport and hotels: When hunting for affordable flights, consider alternative airports, says Sarah Hollenbeck, savings expert for Offers.com. If you’re heading to Los Angeles, say, check fares into Burbank, Long Beach, Orange County and Ontario in addition to LAX.
Similarly, “stay outside of big cities to find more upscale hotels for around half the price, with more reasonable parking to boot,” Meitis says.
3. Consider a vacation home instead of a hotel
From “resort fees” to $8 minibar water, hotel costs can rack up. If you’re traveling with a group, look for deals on home rentals through Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO.com. Of course, you can still sample local cuisines as you like—but with access to a full kitchen, you don’t have to.
4. Live like a local
While review sites are helpful, there’s nothing like firsthand knowledge. Ask friends for locals-only secrets, “so you can really immerse yourself in your travel destination without paying tourist prices,” suggests frequent traveler and event planner Jamie O’Donnell.
5. Avoid unnecessary fees
Used to grabbing a $20 out of any old ATM? At $4.69 apiece, those out-of-network fees can add up if you’re not careful. Also consult your cellphone provider to avoid (or plan for) any roaming fees ahead of time.
6. Don’t overtip
Americans are used to adding an extra 15% to 20% to restaurant tabs, but that’s not customary everywhere. Do some research to make sure you’re not overtipping—and scrutinize your bills to be sure you’re not tipping on top of an automatic service charge.
In Costa Rica, a 10% ‘gratuity’ is included in every restaurant bill. It is the law of the land.
7. Cut transportation costs
Often, strolling a city is better than watching scenery whiz by in a car. If your destination is too far to walk, try using local transportation, like subways or buses. Many will have a handy app to download with schedules and route maps.