Tips on planning a budget friendly vacation

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Quote: Saint Augustine 

My sister was planning a trip to Florida in August. She is not too computer savvy so she enlisted the help of a travel agent from AAA to help her out with all the fine details. She wanted plane tickets, a rental car and a beach front hotel for 4 days. The travel agent was able to create a package for her that would cost over $1200. That didn’t include, taxes and fees such as checked baggage at the airport.

Once she told me what AAA had quoted her with, I saw it as a challenge to see if I could do any better. Not to mention that I love researching and planning trips and I have done quit a few over the years so I have gotten pretty good at it. 🙂

Buying Plane Tickets

AAA had my sister flying through Delta airlines. Remember the price that the travel agent came up with did not include checked baggage fees so I did a little research to see how much Delta charges. For the first checked bag it is $25 and $35 for the second unless you are flying First, BusinessElite or Business class. WOW! Read more about Delta’s baggage fees here.

I suggest checking out Southwest Airlines. I have yet to find another airline carrier that can beat Southwest’s prices. I was able to snag tickets for my sister for $136 each way. These tickets also did not include any lay overs. My sister will be able to fly from Ohio to Florida in 2 hours and 15 minutes. (There are some restrictions to the “Get Away” tickets. They must be purchased online, that can’t be transferred or refunded.)

More importantly, Southwest does not have any check baggage fees. Yes, you heard me. Each person who flies can check 2 pieces of luggage for free. In addition, you may keep a carry on and a small personal item like a purse with you on the plane. ALL for FREE. There are restrictions such as weight limits but they are within reason. Check them out here.

Securing a Hotel Room

After we secured my sister’s plane tickets, we went in search for a hotel. She had a few requirements. She wanted free internet access from her room, free parking, free breakfast, a pool, a gym, and an ocean front room. *Gulp* A tall order. Could I do it? lol

In order to tackle this feat I turned to Trip Advisor. You simply type in the city you are traveling to and the website will list all hotels in the area in ranking of best to worst in terms of reviews, price per night, etc. The scores are based on how travelers rate them. They can also write reviews and add photos. It is always nice to see photos from actually travelers not stock photos taken by hotel staff at the time the building was opened.

Trip Advisor also pairs with Expedia and a few other discount travel websites so you can see a few discounted prices on any one hotel. I was able to locate a ocean front hotel with all the amenities my sister was looking for about $118 a night.

(My personal recommendation for a hotel stay is the Hampton Inn hotel chain. They have the most comfortable cloud 9 beds and in my opinion, the bed is the most important feature while staying at a hotel. You are going to use the room mostly to sleep in so you want to make sure the bed is very comfortable.)

**My friend Casey, who is a traveling connoisseur, recommends Hotel 77 when searching for hotel rooms. It has Trip Advisor integrated into its searches. For more information check out her comment below.

Renting Some Wheels

The last thing my sister wanted was a rental car. I researched which companies she had to choose from by going to the airport’s website of which she planned to fly into. The airport had about 8 different companies to choose from. I simply browsed all their websites until I narrowed it down to the last two cheapest companies but was able to narrow it down to one after looking at Enterprise’s car selection.

My sister has deep ties to the American auto industry and it would not sit well with her to drive around a foreign car so she opted with Dollar car rentals who offered mostly American made vehicles. I was able to score her a 4 day car rental for about $75 in total with unlimited mileage.

The interesting thing about car rentals is that you can book in advance but you don’t actually give them your credit card information until time of pick up. That is when they try to add on additional fees, such as insurance and loss of property protection. Check with your car insurance company to determine whether these additional fees are necessary.

So in total her trip will cost with plane tickets, hotel stay, and car rental about $1040 as compared to the $1200+ fees price tag AAA quoted her. Woot! It may not be a HUGE difference but that extra money she is keeping in her pocket can go towards food, souvenirs and any other purchases she may encounter on her trip.

***If you are a AAA member, don’t forget to see if your card can help you score discounts when planning a trip.

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2 thoughts on “Tips on planning a budget friendly vacation

    Casey said:
    July 28, 2013 at 10:47 am

    Good tips! You know I’m a travel nut so my personal recommendation for hotel searching is Room77.com They are sort of a comprehensive search engine for hotels and you can factor in your AAA discount (or military discount, AARP, etc) right in to your initial search. They also integrate TripAdvisor reviews right in website so you can easily sort out the sketchy ones.

      Rachel responded:
      July 28, 2013 at 2:31 pm

      Thanks for the tips Casey. I’ll add that URL to the post. 🙂

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