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 and (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 "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:,,"

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 blogger

Use meta-search engines., and other sites scour multiple websites for flights (as well as hotels, cruises and car rentals). A new site,, goes further, assigning a rating based not just on price, but also number of stops, legroom, aircraft age, whether you have to take a bus to the gate, and more. will notify you when the price of a flight reaches your threshold, and if you ticket through the site, it will notify you if the ticket price drops to the extent that you're eligible for a refund. "Yapta will even contact the airline to see about getting that credit."

Pack light. Most of the major U.S. airlines are now charging for a second checked bag.

— Erik Torkells, editor of Budget Travel magazine

Road trips: Save on the way there and at your destination

With the high cost of gas, this is the summer to explore the small towns, state parks and lesser-known attractions that lie close to home. "Most of us can probably think of 10 places within a three-hour drive where we'd like to go but have never gotten around to."

— Tim Leffel, author of Make YourTravel Dollars Worth a Fortune

Maximize fuel economy by heeding the speed limit. It takes 20% more fuel to travel at 65 mph than at 55 mph, and 25% more when driving at 75 mph vs. 65 mph. Also, travel light: 100 pounds of weight in the trunk reduces most cars' fuel efficiency by 1% to 2%. If you must take it along, carry it in the trunk and not on a roof rack, which decreases mileage by up to 5%.

Don't forget to use discounts that you might already have, such as a AAA membership, which offers savings at lodgings, restaurants and attractions. If multiplenational parks are on the itinerary, it might be worth buying an annual pass ($80 if purchased at one of the parks; $85 via 888-275-8747 or

— Amy Graff, a former AAA magazine editor and road trip blogger for Best Western

If you're renting a car, shop around — even after you've booked — since rates fluctuate. "A month ago I booked a rental at Hertz in Raleigh for $210 for three days. (Extortion!) I went back (later) and found the same car for $110."

Skip the restaurants and, instead, picnic in a park. "Kids need to burn off steam, which they can rarely do at 'attractions.' "

— Erik Torkells, editor of Budget Travel magazine

Leave early in the morning or late at night to avoid traffic jams and conserve gas. Plus, the kids can sleep in the car.

— Nancy Schretter, managing editor of Family Travel Network website

Theme parks: Do your homework before you ride

Check individual parks' websites for targeted discounts (for military personnel, for example) or for short-term promotions. With day tickets going for about $75 at Disney World and Universal Orlando, the savings can be considerable. For instance, through June 1, Universal Studios Hollywood is selling an annual pass for the price of a single-day ticket ($64). Visitors can request an upgrade at the park's guest services desk or buy online

For other ways to find discounts at the major destination theme parks (Disney, Universal, Sea World), check out Internet sites such as, and, which offer small (2%-5%) price cuts.

Stay outside the park. Research rates online ( canvasses multiple search engines for the best hotel rates), but also call the hotel directly.

Don't eat in the theme parks, unless you packed it yourself. In the Orlando area, look for free coupon books offering restaurant discounts.

— Bob Sehlinger, creator of The Unofficial Guide series

When booking a lodging, look for these three words: Kids eat free. Or choose an all-suites hotel, condo or timeshare with kitchen facilities. For rentals in the Orlando area, try All Star Vacation Homes ( Or rent directly from owners at and

Book theme park tickets online to save time and possibly money. "Purchasing Universal Orlando Resort's two-park unlimited passes in advance can save at least 20% on the equivalent gate price."

—Nancy Schretter, managing editor of the online Family Travel Network

Go local. Small, regional parks, such as Beech Bend in Bowling Green, Ky., or Holiday World in southern Indiana, often offer locally advertised discounts. "Costs are dramatically lower, and they don't make you feel like your pocket is being picked all day."

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

Europe: It can be yours for 'ridiculously low' prices

No one can say Europe isn't pricey for U.S. travelers trading beleaguered greenbacks for shiny euros. But some locales deliver less sticker shock than others. In Portugal, a glass of "nice" red wine can be had for $1, and bus fare from the airport into Lisbon is a paltry $2. But it may require scaling down expectations and staying in more humble accommodations. Bed-and-breakfasts "offer double the cultural intimacy for half the price of a hotel."

— Rick Steves, founder of Europe Through the Back Door

Connecting flights to Europe frequently cost less than non-stops. "Icelandair offers some terrific bargains for fliers who connect via Reykjavik to the rest of Europe from cities such as Boston."

— Jerry Chandler, blogger

Consider buying a package that bundles airfare, hotel and other elements. It can lower prices, and extra nights can often be booked for "ridiculously low" rates. To determine whether the trip is really a bargain, price individual components before booking. Don't go by the packager's description of the hotel; do your own research. Among sites to check: and lists inexpensive lodgings "for those who really don't want fancy — but at the current exchange rate, that may include more of us than we think."

— Erik Torkells, editor of Budget Travel magazine

Fly to a gateway city, such as Amsterdam, London or Frankfurt, then book a seat on a European low-cost carrier such as Ryanair and easyJet. Or hop a train to your final destination. If you're traveling with others, consider a vacation rental or home exchange. "You get the added benefit of living like the locals do."

— Anne Banas, editor of the consumer website Smarter Travel

"This is going to be a brutal summer. If you must go this year, get out of the big cities. Head to Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania or Bulgaria."

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

Have you tried any of the advice above? Do you have any unique budget travel strategies? Share your tips below.