1. Get off the beaten path. If at all possible, avoid traveling to typical spring break destinations. Not only will your family be surrounded by partying college students but also prices for flights, hotels, and food will likely be much higher in these locales during spring break due to high demand.
One alternative, if you’re willing to rough it a little, is to go camping at a national park. Many of them are open by March, and they’re less crowded around this time than they will be during the summer months.
2. Go for a home-like atmosphere. Skip the pricey hotel and look for a home rental through a site like VRBO.com or HomeAway.com, suggests Andrea Woroch, consumer expert for Kinoli. She says these homes are often a better deal than a hotel. Plus, you can spread out a little more and cook some of your own meals to save even more money.
3. Scout out discount cards and coupons. Buy an Entertainment Book for the city you’re planning to visit. In addition to hotel savings, you’ll find coupons for popular local sites, such as museums, waterparks, theaters, and restaurants. You may also want to sign up with Groupon or LivingSocial to learn about deals happening in your destination city, and you can visit Restaurant.com for deals on eating out.
Another option for saving money while traveling is to check out a site like GiftCardGranny to buy gift cards for anything from hotels to entertainment at a discount. For example, Woroch says she found gift cards for a popular airline at 5 percent off. Although it might not sound like much, that deal would save you $80 off two $800 round-trip flights to a far-flung destination—enough to cover a fancy meal or a few smaller meals.
4. Ask for discounts. You don’t have to be a hard-nosed negotiator. Try something simple like, “Do you ever give price breaks to families traveling on a budget?” Give it a shot at your hotel upon check-in, at restaurants, or even at entertainment spots. Understanding staffers may offer you a kids-eat-free deal, a group discount, or special upgrades. The key is to be friendly and appreciative.
5. Try some reward credit card travel hacking. If you pay off your credit card in full each month, you may want to try this technique, which my family is experimenting with this year. How it works: Sign up for a new credit card that offers generous sign-up bonuses for new users—such as enough points for a round-trip flight or two, free/discounted hotel stays, or cash toward travel expenses.
To earn your bonus, you’ll need to charge a certain amount in a period of time required by the card issuer. It can be a nice way to pay off some of your spring break travel expenses or get ahead on summer travel. As always, use any credit card wisely, and don’t change your spending patterns significantly just to chase the rewards.