Time Your Travel to Save Big Bucks

how to time your travel to save big bucks

Your best bets for cheaper rates (and for more elbow room) are during times when classes are in session, says Budget Travel deputy editor Robert Firpo-Cappiello.

Travel When School’s in Session

Your best bets for cheaper rates (and for more elbow room) are during times when classes are in session, says Budget Travel deputy editor Robert Firpo-Cappiello. To avoid high fares, time your travel for the periods a week or two before or after school breaks and holidays — like the weeks between New Year’s and Martin Luther King weekend and the weeks before or after, but not including Memorial Day weekend in May. Or book in mid-September or October (traditionally cheaper months) or the weeks before Thanksgiving.

Focus on Fall (or Winter, for World Travel)

In an analysis of over a billion search queries from 2012, Kayak found the cheapest month for domestic travel is September, when average fares drop to $296.97. (January and October were the next cheapest at $305-$310 on average.) The best times for bargain hunters traveling internationally: February and March, when fares average around $950. But, don’t worry. Even if you’re planning to book a summer vacation — when average rates are typically higher — you can still save big, depending on when you book your flights, your lodging, your rental car, and more. Keep reading for more tips on how.

Book Trips on Tuesdays

A study by Farecompare.com of its historical airfare data found the best time to buy tickets is on Tuesdays at 3:00 pm ET. That’s when airlines tend to release their promotional fares (deals which are sometimes pulled, if not sold out, by the end of the week). How far in advance should you book? Firpo-Cappiello recommends buying eight weeks in advance of your trip. After that, fares tend to rise steadily as you get closer to your departure date.

Reserve Summer Rentals in Spring

A vacation rental or home swap is a great way to save money on lodging, especially if your family or group is too big for a single hotel room, says Firpo-Cappiello. But you have to act now (as in early spring) for a summer vacation. Besides the popular travel rental site, www.airbnb.com, Firpo-Cappiello recommends visiting vrbo.com, homeaway.com or villasintl.com for vacation rentals, and homeexchange.com, homelink.org or intervac.com for home swaps.

Check Hotel Deals Days Before Departure

If you’re willing to live with a little uncertainty, new online tools like www.backbid.com and www.hipmunk.com can help you find a better hotel rate right up to a few days before you want to check in. BackBid lets hotels sell rooms to travelers who’ve already made reservations at rivals, says Firpo-Cappiello, while Hipmunk lets you input a destination and then delivers hotel rates culled from booking sites like Orbitz and Getaroom. Or, if you’re willing to wing it, try an app like Hotel Tonight, which lets you book last-minute hotel rooms at a discount.

Pick up your rental car early.

Savings aren’t limited to airfare and accommodation. Time it right and you can save on rental cars too. Book as early as you can to get the best selection of car models and prices. Pick the cheapest model you can live with to save money. Then arrive there early in the morning, before most customers have returned their cars. Says Firpo-Cappiello: “This way, the rental agency may have to give you a bigger car for the price of the smaller one you reserved.” (They are obligated to give you the same price, he adds, so don’t pay for an upgrade.) Happy travels!