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How to save money on your mid-winter or spring getaway

Make your dollars go the distance with these money-saving travel tips.

by Herb Weisbaum /  / Updated 
Dreaming of the beach, but tight on cash? Flying into a different nearby airport or shifting your travel dates or times might significantly lower the price.Mark Metcalfe / Getty Images file
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It’s been a rough winter and you really need a break. Whether you prefer a sunny beach destination or some fun on the slopes, you have plenty of options for your late winter/early spring getaway.

“There are a lot of great deals on hotel rooms and airfare right now, even though spring break is a popular time to travel,” said Christie Hudson, communications director at Expedia. “And if you can go outside of spring break — especially for popular destinations like Hawaii and Orlando — and Easter, you’ll get even better deals.”

Expedia crunched the data and found that for many popular ski and snowboarding destinations, including Mammoth Lakes, Calif., Vail, Colo. and Whistler in Canada, the cheapest hotel rates are in February and March. If you’re headed for a beach resort in Mexico, you can save hundreds of dollars by bundling your flight and hotel when you book, Expedia found.

NBC News BETTER contacted travel experts to get other money-saving ideas. Here are a few you might want to consider:

Finding Your Flights

Internet travel agencies, such as Momondo, Kayak, Hipmunk, Expedia, Travelocity, and Google.com/flights, make it easy to compare airfares when booking a flight. Keep in mind: You won’t find prices and you cannot buy tickets for Southwest Airlines on these aggregator sites.

“If your goal is to save money and you’re headed to a place where Southwest flies — and they recently expanded into Mexico and the Caribbean markets — you should go to the Southwest website,” said Steve Danishek at TMA Travel in Seattle. “And keep in mind, Southwest fares include taxes and fees and they don’t charge for checked luggage.”

When to Book

Despite all the hype, there is no “best time” to buy your airline tickets for every destination. FareCompare recommends Tuesdays at about 3 p.m. Eastern Time “because many airlines release weekly airfare sales in the early morning hours of Tuesday, and by mid-afternoon, competing airlines have matched sale prices”

According to the 2018 Air Travel Outlook Report from the Airlines Reporting Corporation, the optimal time to shop for flights is a Sunday, at least 30 days in advance. That same report found that February is the cheapest month for international flights from the U.S., making it a good time to head to Mexico.

One thing travel experts agree on: The cheapest days to fly domestically are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Fridays and Sundays tend to be the most expensive. For international travel, mid-week flights are typically cheaper than weekends.

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How to Book

If you’re looking for the lowest price and not locked into a particular airline to get the frequent flier points, you might want to price your trip using two one-way tickets on different airlines rather than a roundtrip ticket on a single carrier.

“When I’m searching for a trip, I always search one-ways on different airlines and compare with the lowest roundtrip price on an online travel agency or an airline site directly,” said George Hobica, travel expert and syndicated columnist. “Almost always, I’d say 90 percent of the time, I can find a better deal if I mix and match airlines.”

Have an airline credit card? Charge the trip on that card and avoid the luggage fee.

Have an airline credit card? Charge the trip on that card and avoid the luggage fee.

Hobica provided this example: He priced a one-week trip (Feb. 2 – 9) from Chicago to San Jose, Costa Rica. Roundtrip was $611 on United and $732 on American. But fly down on Spirit and back on Southwest (Midway Airport, not O’Hare) and the total “hacker fare” was $550.

When you comparison shop, look at booking a single seat with buying two or more at the same time. If there’s only one seat left at the lowest price and you’re searching for two seats, the computer will skip over that seat and give you two at the same, higher price, Hobica explained.

Scoring a Deal on Your Hotel Room

Most major hotel chains guarantee the lowest rates on their website, but travel websites, such as Trivago, Expedia and Travelocity, make it easy to comparison shop. Plus, they offer package that can result in substantial savings.

Related

If you don’t mind a little uncertainty, the cheapest option is to use what’s called an “opaque site” such as Hotwire or Priceline. You get that price because you don’t find out which hotel you’ve booked until you’ve paid for it.

“Some people are not comfortable with this uncertainty, but if you’re flexible and a little bit adventurous, that’s the best way to get the best rate,” said Octavio Blanco of Consumer Reports.

Some hotels now tack on an extra charge for each stay — often called a “resort fee”— to cover the special amenities they provide, such as the fitness center or a daily newspaper.

Some hotels now tack on an extra charge for each stay — often called a “resort fee”— to cover the special amenities they provide, such as the fitness center or a daily newspaper.

Watch Out for Hotel Gotcha Fees

Some hotels now tack on an extra charge for each stay — often called a “resort fee” or “urban destination fee” — to cover the special amenities they provide, such as the fitness center or a daily newspaper. The average resort fee is about $27, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA).

“A resort fee is a helpful way to communicate to potential guests that the property will offer them an enhanced experience,” AHLA’s Rosanna Maietta said in an email.

These fees are generally disclosed at the time of the booking and save people money by “packing amenities together into one fee,” Maietta said.

Consumer advocates hate resort fees. Hotels use them, they claim, to bring down the daily rate and make the cost of staying there look cheaper. Since they’re not part of the daily room rate, they don’t affect the hotel’s ranking on travel websites when results are listed by price.

“Consumers have no idea what they’re getting for the fee before they get to the hotel, but they’re required to pay it, whether they uses the services or not.” said Charlie Leocha, president and co-founder of Travelers United. “These fees are not part of the advertised room rate, but they’re mandatory. That’s misleading and deceptive.”

Leocha cautions travelers that opaque sites such as Priceline and Hotwire never include resorts fees, so even savvy travelers can get hit with that surprise fee, if they book this way.

When booking online, check for any mandatory fees added on to the room rate before you confirm the transaction. When making a reservation by phone, ask if there are any mandatory fees other than taxes. You might want to find a comparable hotel that doesn’t tack on that fee.

More Ways to Save

The listed price is just a starting point for travel purchases. There are all sorts of ways to get a lower price. A few examples:

  • Become a member of an airline or hotel loyalty program — even if you don’t travel that much — and you’ll get special promotion offers. WalletHub recently released a report on the best frequent flier programs.
  • When booking travel, check for special rates offered to AAA or AARP members.
  • Be flexible when planning your trip. Flying into a different nearby airport or shifting your travel dates or times might significantly lower the price.
  • Have an airline credit card? Charge the trip on that card and avoid the luggage fee. If you frequently fly that airline and don’t have their credit card, consider getting it. Most airlines have hefty sign-up bonuses (typically 25,000 miles or more) and offer cardholders special promotions.
  • Don’t be shy about haggling. Ask the operator if there’s any way to lower the price. Call the hotel directly, rather than the corporate reservation line, and see if they can sweeten the deal.

NEXT: Save $520 (or more) on your next flight with these airfare hacks

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