It’s still summer, and if you plan to travel soon, be prepared to see inflation at nearly every step along the way.
According to a May NerdWallet survey, nearly 7 in 10 Americans planned to travel between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and among them, 81% said inflation would impact their plans. This number spiked for younger adults like millennials (89%) and members of Generation Z (87%).
And they’re right. There’s no getting around inflation this summer. Newly released data for June 2022 puts inflation at a stunning 9.1%, a new 40-year high in the U.S according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The surge in prices since June of last year is staggering. People are not only paying the price at the gas pump (with a national average of $4.65 per gallon) and grocery store (food costs are up 12%), but they’re also spending more for key components of summer travel. Airfare is up almost 34%, restaurant dining is up about 7.7% and hotel stays are up 11.5% compared with this time last year.
While inflation at this level is beyond the control of everyday Americans, you can keep your travel plans in place without taking on extra debt by getting your priorities in order and using creative booking strategies to make the most of your trip.
Assess your travel savings tools
Count your rewards points and miles
About a quarter (24%) of 2022 summer travelers said they planned to lower the costs of travel due to inflation by using their rewards points or miles. You could cover the cost of your entire flight or simply use points to make the costs more manageable. Many people have been accruing these points during the pandemic when travel was restricted.
Tap airline and hotel loyalty programs, and credit card perks
Perks like free checked bags or access to airport lounges that offer free food can save you some serious cash, especially if you’re traveling with your family. Airport food can be pricey, so saving on food and drinks for each person in your party can add up to big savings. Most hotels offer free loyalty programs where you earn points on your stay and eventually earn free nights.
Shorten your trip
Summer travelers are having to make some sacrifices this year to help lessen the impact of inflation. With lodging costs on the rise, more than a quarter (28%) said they planned to travel for fewer days to save money. If you do the same, you can then put the savings toward other things like dining out and tourist attractions.
Book during the week to miss weekend price hikes
More than half (57%) of 2022 summer travelers said relaxed workplace policies like hybrid schedules and remote work would make it easier for them to travel this summer. If you have a flexible work schedule, booking during the weekdays can often lower your costs since lodging prices are typically higher as you approach the weekend.
Research free activities to do at your destination
Scheduling a mix of paid and free activities can really help you stay under budget. Sure, splurge for the tour, cooking class or experience you’ve been dreaming about, but mix in a few free activities (e.g., museums, parks or window shopping) to keep your travel budget on track.
Trim transportation costs at your destination
In the past, travelers might have decided to drive to their destination or rent a car to counter high airfare costs. But, with national gas prices averaging $4.65 per gallon, according to AAA data, and rental car prices on the rise due to shortages and high demand, this might not be the money-saving alternative it once was. Here’s what you can do instead.
Book a centrally located hotel or vacation rental
Before booking, sit down and pinpoint the restaurants, attractions and other locations you want to visit and find lodging that is in a central location to help reduce in-town travel costs or the need for a rental car. While there might be a few things you want to do that are beyond walking distance, this strategy will help you save big.
Don’t overlook mass transit
If you’re traveling to a major city, don’t overlook mass transit options like subways, buses, or even bike shares. Using one or more of these options is likely way more affordable than renting a car or using a rideshare service, and you might even get to see more of your destination.
If you need a rental car, book early
If you must get a rental car at your destination, book one early and check pricing and availability even before you book your flights. You can always monitor the price as your trip gets closer and cancel your old reservation and reserve at the new, lower rate. And with gas prices so high, book the smallest and most fuel-efficient car that will fit your needs. In other words, resist the SUV upsell.
Make your lodging more affordable
Hotel costs have skyrocketed due to inflation, but there are ways to cut back on your spending if you get creative and are willing to trade a little privacy for cost savings.
Stay with friends or family near your destination
If you have friends or family members who live close to where you’re traveling, consider asking if you might stay with them. Not only could this save you money, but it might help you wrap two trips into one, especially if you already had plans to visit.
Cash in loyalty points for free stays or discounted rates
If there is a hotel chain you really like, join its loyalty program and plan to book directly. If you are already a member, you might have already accrued enough points for a free night or two.
Other benefits and perks from these hotel loyalty programs can include complimentary breakfast, restaurant credits or waived resort fees, all of which can add up.
One tip to keep in mind when choosing which hotel loyalty program to join: the bigger the hotel chain, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to find participating hotels for future trips.
Book a hotel with free breakfast or happy hour
Using these perks can cut down on your restaurant bills. While the food or wine might not be Michelin-star worthy, it might be the cost savings you need to keep travel debt at bay. This is especially true if you’re traveling with kids.
Book lodging with a kitchen or mini-fridge
One of the fun things about travel is trying new restaurants, but it’s costly to eat out for every meal. Stocking a mini-fridge with drinks, snacks or even easy breakfast options can help you save big. Some hotel brands even come with full kitchens inside the room.
It’s never too late to start saving for next year
If you find yourself priced out of summer travel this year but have a major case of FOMO (fear of missing out), start saving now. Once you figure out your destination, estimate the costs and divide that number by the weeks or months until your trip. The result? The amount you should be saving each week or month to meet your goal.
By building travel costs into your budget throughout the year, you can save in smaller chunks and safely tuck that money into a high-yield savings account to earn interest. To make this even more mindless, try automating those biweekly or monthly payments into your savings account so that you aren’t tempted to spend that money elsewhere.
With a savings bucket dedicated to travel costs, you will have cash on hand to offset travel expenses as you book them, rather than racking up travel debt. In addition, get the most out of your points and miles to reduce travel costs or consider signing up for a new travel credit card (as long as you pay off the bill on time) to get a large pool of points as a welcome bonus.
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Amanda Barroso writes for NerdWallet. Email: [email protected]