7 Tips for a Cheap Summer Vacation

Temperatures are rising, school is almost out and it's time to start thinking about hitting the road this summer for an amazing vacation. Whether you are heading to the mountains, the beach or the Grand Canyon, a trip this summer is probably going to be more expensive than a comparable vacation last year.

With the economy generally showing signs of a rebound, Americans have slowly started to travel again, which means hotels and airlines are less desperate and offering fewer cut-rate deals than they did last year.

"When you find that deal, you need to jump on it because prices will go up," said Amy Graff, a family travel expert and editor of the blog On the Go With Amy.

VIDEO: Bianna Golodryga explains how to get the best deals for summer travel.
Save Big on Travel Expenses

Graff was one of the presenters last week at an annual leisure travel summit in New York City hosted by Best Western.

The general consensus was there are deals to be found, but you have to look harder than in the past. To help lower your travel budget, here are seven tips from the experts at the summit and some of our all-time favorites.

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Book Vacations Early

Travelers last year got used to getting last-second deals on just about everything. There are still some bargains to be found this year but they are a lot rarer.

"While prices are inching up, there are deals out there," said Glen MacDonell, director of travel products and services for AAA. "But you need to plan in advance. It's a matter of looking now rather than waiting."

Dorothy Dowling, senior vice president for marketing and sales at Best Western, added that for popular attractions such as national parks, travelers should "book early, not just for the deals but to even get a room."

She predicts that there will be no free rooms during peak summer weeks in some of the prime locations.

Consider Pre-Paying Hotel Rooms

Most major hotel chains offer an "advance purchase" rate that is often the lowest available room out there. Travelers who book the rates will save a lot of money but get locked into a specific hotel and date. In essence, they are giving up flexibility for price.

There are also so-called opaque booking sites such as Priceline.com and Hotwire with sometimes even deeper discounts. But you are locked into a non-refundable rate, don't know the hotel at which you're staying and forfeit any frequent guest points. You also aren't always guaranteed a bed type.

"I'd rather know what I'm getting," MacDonell said.

Join Frequent Flier, Guest Programs

Yes, we all know that joining the programs -- which cost nothing -- helps you accrue miles or points toward free flights, hotel rooms or car rentals. And this summer there are plenty of promotions such as stay three nights, get one free.

But if that wasn't reason enough for joining, consider this: Often hotels will throw in all sorts of goodies for free to members, even the lowest tier ones. That might mean a free newspaper, late check out or free Internet access. It's not much, but free is free.

For instance, members of Omni Hotels' Select Guest Program get a free morning beverage delivery to their room, complimentary pressing of two shirts, free bottled water and a free shoe shine.

You might not need a suit pressed while on vacation, but that free cup of coffee or orange juice at your door in the morning can't hurt.

Look for Extras Such as Free Breakfast, Internet

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