Many travel companies are dropping the promotions they launched during the recession to dredge up sales. So the cost of summer vacation is on the rise. But deals still abound on car rentals and places to stay, especially if you're flexible. Here's how to save. Michelle Chapman, Associated Press
Where to go, and when: If your heart's set on a specific locale, that may cost you. Instead, craft a short list of possible destinations, then check travel websites like Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity for hotel and rental car prices. Or try your luck at Priceline.com, which lets users pick a price and seeks a vendor willing to take it.
Consider factors that'll give you more bang for your buck, like free attractions and walkable itineraries. Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Atlanta all have free museums, parks and tons of inexpensive dining options. In Orlando, Walt Disney World continues to offer significant discounts, and visiting nearby beaches is essentially free.
Flexibility on arrival and departure dates also can lower your costs. Hotels and rental car companies often charge less on weekdays than weekends because fewer people travel then. And if you can wait until after Labor Day — or can rush out in May or early June — you may find off-peak rates are even better.
Where to stay: When visiting a large city, check for places to stay in nearby towns with public transportation connections to downtown.
Also check vrbo.com, valuevacationrentals.com, vacationhomerentals.com or homeaway.com to rent houses, condos and apartments directly from individual property owners. And many youth hostels offer family rooms for low prices. Check hiusa.org or hostelworld.com, and remember that reservations are often a must.
And always ask about parking charges, especially in big cities. They can quickly eat up a room discount.
How to get there: With airfare deals likely scarce, a car trip may end up your cheapest option. Before you book, surf the Web for printable coupons or online discount codes. Then call companies to find out what types of specials and seasonal rates are available, suggests Alice Pereira, spokeswoman for Avis Budget Group Inc. And be sure to ask how many miles per gallon the vehicles get so you can reserve one that uses less gas, she adds.
If you're arriving by plane, look for rental car companies with offices away from the airport because they often offer lower rates than those with airport hubs. Most car rental companies provide free shuttles, but it may be worth cab fare to get the cheaper rate.
How to get around: If you're driving to a major metropolitan area, it's always cheaper — once you're there — to get from one sight to the next by bus or subway than it is to pay for parking and reparking, especially because you'll save on gas and mileage. But taxis can be the cheapest alternative for a group of three or more — and the fastest.
Where to find more info: Doing lots of research online, in books and with friends before you go will help keep you out of expensive tourist traps. Get restaurant reviews, check museum hours and shows and find offbeat musical offerings, local children's attractions and affordable things to do in bad weather.
Also check with your destination's visitor bureau, says Danielle Courtenay, spokesman for the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau Inc. Some, like Orlando's, offer cards that give discounts on dining, hotels and entertainment, and they may have other special packages.