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5 Ways to Save Money When Traveling Domestically

Americans devoted $650 billion to domestic leisure travel in 2018. Their spending on vacations and visits to friends and family jumped by 7.1% from the prior year, far outpacing the overall growth in consumer spending.

If you’re like most American families, you devote a fair bit of money to airfare, food, gas and lodging when you travel. Knowing how to avoid spending more than necessary can help you stretch your budget and give you more memories for less money.

“Your vacation doesn’t have to be expensive to be memorable,” says Robert Aruldoss, 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. If you want to travel to Disney World with your kids, for example, steer clear of the weeks right around President’s Day or the Fourth of July. 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 your travel can itself be fun, Robert says, and can get the whole family anticipating the upcoming vacation. Thinking ahead also saves money. Airfares climb fast in the weeks right before departure. An annual survey by CheapAir.com finds that flyers get the best ticket prices if they buy at least three weeks ahead of their travel date—but no more than four months prior. Airlines actually price tickets higher when they first publish the fares, according to the research, and then gradually lower prices until you get to that ideal ticket-purchase time window.

3. Be adventurous

If you favor experiences over expensive indulgences, you may come away with a more memorable vacation, Robert 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. Fees for baggage, extra legroom and other niceties such as boarding early earned the big U.S. airlines more than $11 billion last year. Minimizing those charges can save a lot. The first-bag-free feature that some airline-branded credit cards offer, and other perks, can be valuable. 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 with coverage a credit card or your own auto policy already provides. 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 of refunding ATM fees.

5. Be flexible

Be willing to go to the next town over 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. And it may save you a lot of money, especially if it means you can buy groceries and cook for yourself instead of eating every meal out. Sometimes “living like a local” can help both 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 memory, Robert says. “When you look back on a trip, the less-than-perfect parts will fade away and the good stuff will be what everyone remembers.”

A cost-conscious travel companion

Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking® account* comes with a Schwab Bank Visa Platinum Debit Card that provides a wealth of benefits, including many that are helpful when traveling: 

  • It’s accepted at millions of merchant outlets and ATMs in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide.
  • You pay no foreign-exchange transaction fees for purchases made with your debit card.
  • 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; Travel and Emergency Assistance Services. 
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‡ If you use your card to withdraw foreign currency from an ATM or to pay for a purchase with foreign currency, Schwab Bank charges your account for the U.S. dollar equivalent of the transaction. Depending on the specific arrangements that are in place, the exchange rate and calculation of the U.S. dollar equivalent will be done by the bank at which you conduct the transaction, the network to which the ATM belongs, or Visa. The bank or network may also charge a fee. Schwab Bank does not assess foreign transaction fees (i.e., a fee to convert US Dollars to local currency) to debit cardholders. See the Schwab Bank Visa Debit Card Agreement for details.

§Unlimited ATM fee rebates apply to cash withdrawals using your Schwab Bank Visa Platinum debit card wherever it is accepted. ATM fee rebates do not apply to any fees other than those assessed for using an ATM to withdraw cash from your Schwab Bank account. Schwab Bank makes its best effort to identify those ATM fees eligible for rebate, based on information it receives from Visa and ATM operators. In the event that you have not received a rebate for a fee that you believe is eligible, please call a Schwab Bank Client Service Specialist for assistance at 1-888-403-9000  (or for clients of independent investment advisors, a Schwab Alliance Service team Member at 1-800-515-2157). Schwab Bank reserves the right to modify or discontinue the ATM fee rebate at any time.

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The information provided here is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered an individualized recommendation or personalized investment advice. The investment strategies mentioned here may not be suitable for everyone. Each investor needs to review an investment strategy for his or her own particular situation before making any investment decision.

All expressions of opinion are subject to change without notice in reaction to shifting market conditions. Data contained herein from third-party providers is obtained from what are considered reliable sources. However, its accuracy, completeness or reliability cannot be guaranteed.

Examples provided are for illustrative purposes only and not intended to be reflective of results you can expect to achieve.

The Schwab Center for Financial Research is a division of Charles Schwab & Co., Inc.

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