Sign Up For An Airfare Alert
Vacation promotions abound in the summer, but you have to be ready to jump at a moment's notice. Be prepared with the right resources at your fingertips. Your first move? Type in your origin and destination at airfarewatchdog.com and a team of experts will sort through fares from online travel agencies (OTAs) such as Orbitz and Travelocity, as well as from airlines currently not included on OTAs (like Southwest Airlines), and then they'll e-mail you when they find a great deal. The experts also search airlines' own websites for exclusive sales, which OTAs don't pull in.
Timing Tip: Some fare sales expire in a matter of hours, so it's wise to act quickly.
Bookmark Last-Minute Deal Sites
Hotels and airlines often are eager to fill unsold beds and seats at the 11th hour, and they slash prices to get your business. Expedia's last-minute deals (expedia.com/last-minute) include bargain flights, hotels, cruises and flight-hotel packages in your area for deeply discounted trips departing "tonight, this weekend and next weekend." If you believe you'll usually have more notice, bookmark the deals pages at Expedia (expedia.com/deals), Orbitz (orbitz.com/deals) and Travelocity (travelocity.com/deals) to see a broader range of options.
Timing Tip: Plan to depart on a Tuesday or Wednesday, at least one way. According to farecompare.com, those are the cheapest days to fly; on average, tickets are about 35 percent cheaper than on Fridays and Sundays, the priciest days.
"Like" Theme Parks' Social Media Pages
If your family will want to ride a roller coaster or two this summer, follow local amusement parks on Facebook and Twitter. When attendance is lower than expected, many parks use social networks to alert followers to flash discounts, like briefly posted giveaways and 2-for-1 admission deals. The exception: Disney-owned parks. If Disney is a must, visit mousesavers.com, an unofficial and regularly updated database of park-related bargains—for example, a limited-time offer of 30 percent off room rates—sourced from across the Web.
Timing Tip: In the past two years, Disney has raised its ticket prices in June—last year, a one-day ticket rose from $85 to $89. In case Disney follows suit this year, buy passes ASAP to lock in the lower rate.
Load Up Your Phone With The Right Apps
Surprise "summer Friday"? Take advantage of discounted hotel rates targeted at spur-of-the-moment travelers and get out of town. HotelTonight, a free same-day booking app (Apple, Android), lists rooms in more than 50 U.S. cities at rates that are 70 percent off those quoted on other sites. With the free Priceline app (Apple, Android), you can search more than 140,000 hotels for same-day bookings. Its Name Your Own Price function offers rooms for up to 60 percent off (you learn the hotel's name after you prepay for the room).
Timing Tip: Want to score a nicer room than you paid for? Check in around 4:30 p.m., when hotel clerks typically know which of the better rooms will be vacant but supervisors with authority to allow upgrades haven't yet left for the night.
Photo Credit: Flickr/ kenteegartin