5 Ways to Save Money When Traveling Domestically

August 10, 2022
Stay on budget and enjoy your vacation.

Travel budgets are under pressure. On one hand, high demand for flights, car rentals, and cruises is pushing prices up, according to AAA, as Americans hit the road in ever-greater numbers. On the other, historically high levels of inflation have made for eye-watering increases in food and fuel costs.

However, that doesn't mean you have to spend the summer at home. Careful planning can help you make more of your travel dollars. 

"Your vacation doesn't have to be expensive to be memorable," says Chris Kawashima, senior financial planning research analyst at the Schwab Center for Financial Research. "There are many ways to save money, and none of them make the experiences any less special."

Here are five ways to help keep travel costs down.  

1. Go off-peak

You can save a lot of money if you can travel when others (think families on a school calendar) cannot. The prices of not just airplane tickets but also hotels and rental cars vary significantly based on demand. Think weekdays versus busy weekends. 

If you want to be really contrarian, go to a summer resort destination in the fall, or head to a ski mountain to go hiking in the summer. 

2. Buy early

Planning a trip can be fun on its own—and if you're thoughtful, you can also save money in the process. 

Although you'll have a greater selection when airlines first publish fares, the price tends to fall in the months leading up to departure. A 2022 survey by CheapAir.com found that flyers get the best ticket prices around two and a half months ahead of their travel date but no more than three months prior (even booking nearly a year in advance was more costly). But don't wait too long: Airfares also tend to climb fast in the weeks right before departure. 

3. Be adventurous

If you favor experiences over expensive indulgences, you may come away with a more memorable vacation, Chris says. Camping in a beautiful park may cost less than a hotel in ho-hum surroundings. 

The travel industry likes to market luxury, but good company can make any meal or outing more fun—no matter how much you spend. Your vacation doesn't have to be the occasion for your most expensive meal of the year.

4. Mind the fees

The revenue airlines collect for something other than flying you from point A to point B has quadrupled over the past decade. Ancillary revenue—including fees for baggage, extra legroom, onboard food and beverage sales, boarding early, and other niceties—earned U.S. and Canadian airlines more than $24 billion in 2021. Minimizing those charges can save a lot. Review the fine print, and if you travel frequently, it may be worthwhile to use a travel-focused credit card that covers first-bag fees or offers other perks. 

Similarly, you may be offered add-ons at the rental car counter—ranging from satellite radio to enhanced roadside assistance—that you don't need. Optional rental car insurance may be redundant if your credit card or auto policy already provides it. 

Finally, if you need to withdraw cash during your trip, try to find an ATM owned by your bank. Non-bank ATM fees are another expense that can add up when you're in an unfamiliar territory. Check with your bank to see if they have a policy for refunding fees.   

5. Be flexible

Be willing to go to the next town over from your destination for a cheaper hotel or fly at a less convenient time to cut money off the fare. Renting an apartment or cottage instead of a hotel has become much easier thanks to vacation-home rental services. Buying groceries and cooking for yourself instead of eating out for every meal can also save you quite a few dollars. Sometimes, "living like a local" can help save money and make your vacation more interesting.

Finally, don't fall into the trap of feeling like everything has to be perfect—no matter the expense—when you go on vacation. Travel experiences tend to get better in retrospect. "When you look back on a trip, the less-than-perfect parts will fade away, and the good stuff will be what everyone remembers," Chris says.

A cost-conscious travel companion

The Schwab Bank Visa® Platinum Debit Card (available with a Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking® account linked to a Schwab One®  Brokerage Account*) provides a wealth of benefits, including many that are helpful when traveling:

•    All ATM fees you incur are rebated on a monthly basis.§

•    The card's travel benefits include Fraud Protection for Unauthorized Transfers or Purchases, Travel Accident Insurance, and Travel and Emergency Assistance Services. 

•    It’s accepted at millions of merchant outlets and ATMs in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide.† 

•    And if you travel abroad, you pay no foreign-exchange transaction fees for purchases made with your debit card.‡
†Source: Visa Inc., as of 12/2021

1 "Fact Sheet: Travel's Dramatic Losses in 2020," U.S. Travel Association, 06/11/2021, https://www.ustravel.org/research/fact-sheet-travels-dramatic-losses-2020.  2 "Travel Forecast," U.S. Travel Association, Spring 2021, https://www.ustravel.org/system/files/media_root/document/Research_Travel-Forecast_Summary-Table.pdf.

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