Cheap tricks for summer travel

With the dollar tanking abroad and gas, lodging and flight costs soaring in the USA, leisure travelers face an expensive summer. But that doesn't mean you have to stay home. USA TODAY asked travel experts for money-saving tips for summer getaways.

Hotels: Location, negotiation are words to vacation by

Aim for midweek stays in leisure destinations, when lodging rates generally are lower. Conversely, rates drop on weekends at urban business hotels.

Stay off the beachfront for seaside vacations. "You can save a good deal (sometimes as much as 20%) by staying just a few blocks away. Also consider alternatives to top destinations (in Massachusetts, for example, Buzzards' Bay or Plymouth, instead of right on Cape Cod). And avoid the second half of July and the whole month of August. If you can wait until the week after Labor Day, you can save up to 50% and the weather is just as great."

— Anne Banas, editor of the consumer website Smarter Travel

Use Priceline.com and Hotwire.com (opaque websites where you don't know the exact hotel you've booked until you've paid), and book no earlier than a week in advance, unless it's a holiday or high-demand period.

— Tim Leffel, author of Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune

Consider vacation rental property listed on websites such as HomeAway.com. "It used to be a pain to find a house, condo or apartment to rent, but the Internet has made the process so much easier. Renting is one of the very best values out there right now, especially for groups."

"If you're intrigued by house-swapping and the idea of paying nothing for lodging certainly has an appeal — check out these house-swapping websites: HomeLink.org, HomeExchange.com, Intervac.com."

Negotiate. When quoted a rate, ask if there's a lower rate or unadvertised special. "Play up whatever you bring to the table — you're with a group, for example, or you visit often. Instead of a lower rate, you may end up with free parking or an upgrade."

Hotel loyalty programs can yield extras, such as free Internet access and upgrades.

— Erik Torkells, editor of Budget Travel magazine

Airfares: Advance purchases, flier miles are good to go

Book far in advance. As the number of seats on domestic airlines shrinks, booking early is more important than ever. "Two benefits: You're going to get the best advance-purchase fares, and you'll be able to lock them in before more fuel surcharges are added — as they almost surely will be."

Domestic flights on off-peak travel days (Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays) usually cost less. "The quietest time of the week is early, early Saturday morning. The worst time is Sunday afternoon. Don't even think of trying to get a really good deal on a Sunday ticket booked close in."

Connecting flights are almost always cheaper than non-stop flights. But there is a downside — a far greater chance of flight delays or lost luggage.

"Consider using your frequent-flier miles to offset some of the ticket price. Northwest sometimes allows this, as does Continental. The airlines would much rather lower the fare of a flight that you've partly paid for than give you a seat that's paid for exclusively by frequent-flier miles."

— Jerry Chandler, travel expert and Cheapflights.com blogger

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