6 Tips for Thrifty Summer Trips

By Anna Davies, REDBOOK

Taking a summer break doesn't have to blow a hole in your bank account, says Emily Kaufman, author of The Travel Mom's Ultimate Book of Family Travel. "If you're prepared, realistic and flexible when it comes to vacations," she says, "you'll have a lot more control when it comes to lowering the price." Here are her favorite ways to cut travel costs.

1. Plan way ahead: Book your trip early so you can use airline miles or hotel points. Also, cruises are often discounted if you pay six or more months in advance.

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2. Or wait until the last minute: If you have some wiggle room on your departure date or destination, book your trip just a few weeks before you want to go. Often you'll find lower rates for hotels and airfare. Log on to lastminute.com for deals.

3. Go directly to the source: Low-fare airlines (such as Southwest Airlines or AirTran) may have rates that don't appear on major travel search engines, so be sure to check their websites. Similarly, hotels may offer Web-only discount rates.

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4. Consider the perks: Compare the amenities at several hotels before you jump at the cheapest nightly rate. Free breakfast or parking may add up to better savings. A few spots with good perks: Embassy Suites Hotels offer free hot breakfast; Loews Hotels allow kids to stay free; Holiday Inns let kids eat free.

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5. Google your destination: Chances are you'll find a Convention and Visitors Bureau where you can get free maps, as well as coupons for attractions and lodging.

6. Build a budget: Buy drinks and food from a local grocery store and make lunches you can take with you. Or cut out the guesswork completely: Book an all-inclusive vacation with meal plans, and you'll know exactly how much your trip will cost before you go.

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Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.