7 Smart Ways to Cut Costs on Your Next Vacation

How to plan an unforgettable vacation on any budget.

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As the economy continues to recover at a steady pace, vacations could be making their way back into the budget. A vacation could be just what you need to break away from your usual routine, try something new, and explore a new locale. You could also use some of that vacation time to just relax on the beach or stay at an all-inclusive resort–and you don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy it. Planning ahead and seeking out some great deals on travel packages can help you plan an unforgettable vacation on any budget.

Here are seven smart ways to cut the costs on your next vacation:

1. Stick with discount airlines. Even though you might be getting what seems to be a great deal with a hotel and flight package, don’t overlook the rates for the same route on the website of a discount airline. JetBlue and Southwest frequently offer some unbeatable round-trip and one-way airfare deals that aren’t published on third-party travel sites. Do your homework so you can compare the full cost of at ticket purchased separately through a discount airline to the price of a ticket purchased with a package.

2. Subscribe to travel discount and deal sites. Sites like TravelZoo.com, Groupon Getaways, LivingSocial Escapes, and Jetsetter offer deep discounts on travel packages around the globe. Whether you’re dreaming of a vacation to Cancun, want to relax on the East Coast for a few days, or have your heart set on a spa getaway, take your pick of discounted deals on flash sale and travel daily deal sites. These sites offer some great deals on travel but you do need to act fast. If you can be flexible with the dates and are comfortable with the terms of the deal, save some money by booking up a package (or two) from one of these deal sites.

3. Check out last-minute deals. While it’s good to plan ahead, you might also get lucky with a last-minute trip. Planning a trip for next weekend or the following week could translate to a discounted deal with a last-minute package. If you’ve had your eye on a particular resort or hotel, don’t be afraid to ask about any last-minute room availabilities and packages .Some hotels and resorts may be eager to fill their rooms and can extend a discounted rate. You can also search for last-minute travel deals on third-party sites online. Just make sure you really are getting a good deal by comparing rates and prices on other sites, and by checking in with the hotel to find out what current rack rates are.

4. Plan meals ahead of time. Once you’ve secured your hotel location, scope out some local restaurants and eateries to find out which ones offer some budget-friendly menus. Traveling without relying on the hotel for meals will save you a significant amount of money. If you’re planning an extended stay trip, consider shopping at a grocery store for some of your meal items so you don’t have to eat out for the entire trip. Keeping food costs low can cut travel expenses. You can still splurge on a meal or two, but take the time to find some budget-friendly eateries in the area for the rest of your trip. If you’re planning a road trip, consider packing most of your meals and snacks so you don’t have to buy food during your vacation.

5. Ask about AAA deals. When you’re booking your hotel independently or are still brainstorming ideas for that next trip, don’t forget about AAA discounts and deals. AAA has partnered with many of the major chain hotels to offer a pre-negotiated, discounted rate to all members. Check out your local AAA office’s website to get discounted prices on “staycation” packages and other travel packages in your region. Many hotels that have partnered with AAA also post their discounted rates online. Just make sure you enter your AAA member number in the appropriate field when running your search on the hotel’s website.

6. Head to an off-season destination. Even though many destinations can be perfect for a vacation any time of year, most do have an off season or “shoulder season” where tourist traffic is lower and area hotels have to work harder to stay full. Do some research about destinations that are currently in their off-season and you could secure hotel and airfare packages that are up to 50 percent off (or more) below peak season prices.

7. Stick with vacation rentals for extended stays. If you plan on staying somewhere for more than a week, save money on lodging costs by renting a vacation home, condo, or apartment. Vacation rental stays will end up costing much less than a typical hotel or resort stay but you can still enjoy many hotel-like perks. Look for weekly rate deals from local vacation rental property owners. Just make sure the property you pick is in a location that suits your itinerary. You still want to enjoy a resort-style experience without paying the resort price. Stay near the tourist areas if it’s your first time visiting the area and make sure you have easy access to the beach, area restaurants, and attractions.

Sabah Karimi is a top Yahoo contributor and a travel deal finder for top personal finance blog Wise Bread.