When you travel with your family, you’ve got enough to think about — what to bring, what to eat, and how to keep everyone entertained.
Don’t let unnecessary expenses add unnecessary stress — avoid these common mistakes.
1. Don’t assume that buying round-trip tickets will give you the best deal.
Round-trip tickets are usually the go-to ticket choice and can often offer the best price, but not always.
Recently I found a flight from Seattle to Cancun for $550 on United. I then did a search for two one-way tickets and found similar tickets for $77 less for the same airline.
If you’re flying as a family of four, that’s saving $308.
I also found a flight from L.A. to Miami for $17 less per ticket by combining a United flight with a Frontier flight. It all adds up!
TIP: Compare flights by searching round trips on Google Flights in one tab, and one-way tickets in another and comparing the total price.
2. Don’t spend $30 per suitcase on your flights.
If you’re not traveling with carry-on suitcases, it’s time to start. Most airlines allow a free carry-on along with one personal item that fits under your seat.
Roll your clothes instead of folding them to save space in a smaller bag. You can also store lotions and some makeups in a contact case to avoid taking bulky bottles.
3. Don’t forget to sign up for airline reward programs so you’re not losing out on free flights.
Keep track of your fights so your mileage points can add up and earn you a free flight.
The Southwest Rapid Rewards program will earn you 6-12 points per dollar spent on tickets, depending on your preferred seating. Usually, about 60 points equal a dollar when you redeem them for tickets.
For example, there’s a current ticket from Seattle to Denver for $111 or 6,386 points (58 points/$1). Some other reward programs are:
- Delta SkyMiles
Earn 5 miles for every $1 spent on your plane ticket.
- Alaska Mileage Plan
Earn 1 mile for every mile flown with Alaska Airlines.
- American Airlines AAdvantage
Earn 5 miles for every $1 spent on your plane ticket.
4. Don’t keep buying water bottles and save $28 a week.
Pack reusable water bottles for each family member to refill throughout the trip.
If your family of four each buys $1.00 water bottle a day for a weeklong trip, it adds up to $28.00.
5. Don’t travel during peak seasons and save up to 40%.
Summer is the easiest time to travel, logistically. Tickets tend to be the most expensive because everyone’s planning for the same window of time. But if you choose to go later in the fall — or even better, the winter — you could save some serious cash.
I found tickets from Boise to Orlando for $400 in July that dropped to $320 in October. For a family of four, that’ll save you $320, so you’re basically buying three and getting the fourth one free!
The early part of spring is also a great time to travel. A round-trip ticket from Seattle to Madrid is $578 mid-March compared to $970 in mid-April. That’s a savings of $1,568 for a family of four.
6. Don’t pay for flights in cash — use credit cards with at least 1.5% cash back.
Some credit cards reward you for purchases with a percentage of cash back like Chase’s basic cards, which earn you 1.5% cash back.
If you’re willing to pay an annual fee, these other credit cards earn more rewards when you use them specifically on travel.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred – $95 annual fee after the first year
- Earn 2 points/$1 on travel and dining.
- Earn 1 point/$1 on everything else.
- Points are equal to $0.0125 each when redeemed on travel.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve – $450 annual fee
- Receive $300 annual travel credit.
- Earn 3 points/$1 on travel and dining.
- Earn 1 point/$1 on everything else.
- Each point is equal to a little over $0.01 each when redeemed on travel.
- Capital One Venture – $95 annual fee after the first year
- Earn 2 miles/$1 spent.
- Earn 10 miles/$1 spent booking a Hotel on Hotels.com.
7. Don’t eat out for breakfast every day and save more than $100 a week.
Go to the grocery store as soon as you get to your destination. Buy breakfast foods and snacks such as cereal, oatmeal and yogurt to last you the length of your trip.
If you’re staying in a hotel, use the coffee maker to make oatmeal in your room.
Going out for breakfast with a family of four can easily cost you at the very least $20 a day or $140 a week, while one grocery trip could cost you $20-$40 for the whole week.
TIP: If your vacation spot has a Costco, buy groceries instead of going out for dinner every night to save. Find the average amount you spend per week on groceries, put that amount on a Costco Cash Card, and only use that card for grocery shopping while you’re away.
8. Save 15% by booking an extra day at an Airbnb to get a 7-day discount.
If you’re planning on booking an Airbnb for six days, check the cost for a full week before you book it. Some places offer a 15% discount when you book for a full week, and it ends up being cheaper.
I found one recently that was $765 for a full week — which was $11.00 cheaper than the price for only staying six days.
There are also PLENTY of ways to save on hotels, too.
9. Don’t rent a car at the airport — taxes and fees make rentals 24% more expensive.
Find a way to get to a car rental place outside of the airport — otherwise taxes and fees can be brutal.
Although you can rent a car for $45 at the airport in Denver and $46 off site, the final bill is significantly different. You’d end up paying $142 at the airport for a three-day weekend, as opposed to $108 off site. The difference? Higher taxes and fees.
TIP: You can also find reasonably priced rentals through Turo, the Airbnb of cars.
10. Don’t book your tickets without looking at other dates and locations to save up to 59%.
Sometimes you can’t be flexible on place and time, but if you’re able to be flexible, looking through the airline deals first can save you a lot of money.
For example, Google Flights shows a list of great deals that are happening right now. I was looking into flights out of Boise to fly to Phoenix for a week, and by flying out on a Monday instead of Thursday, I paid $99 instead of $242. Various airlines also offer flexible date options.
11. Don’t take your family to Disney during peak seasons to save at least 11%.
Disney tickets fluctuate with summer and school vacations. The higher the demand for tickets, the higher they’re going to raise their prices.
A one-day ticket for one park costs $122 a person in June but costs $109 per person in September. That’s 11% savings for a family of four, and even though it’s not always the easiest way to do it, it can be worth it to save that money for other adventures.
12. Don’t spend too much on cruises — book last minute or more than six months in advance.
January through March used to be the best time of the season to buy cruise line tickets, but it’s become more popular to see sales all year long.
Honestly, the best time to buy tickets now is 1 ½-2 years in advance if you can — at least book a year ahead to get their sale prices.
The next best time to buy is last minute, if you have the flexibility, when they’re trying to fill their rooms.
I found a 7-day Carnival Alaskan cruise for $759 a person if you buy 14 months in advance, $457 a person if you book for next month, and $871 a person if you book six months ahead of time.
If you’re buying tickets for a family of four, you save $448 if you book a year in advance and $1,656 if you book last minute.
13. Don’t buy theme park tickets at the gate and save $20 a person.
When you buy tickets at the gate, they’re going to hike up their prices. Always buy these tickets ahead of time to save up to $20 a ticket at places like Disney World and Six Flags.
14. Don’t forget to check Gift Card Granny or Raise before purchasing tickets for flights or theme parks to save 27%.
One of the simplest ways to save money is by searching Gift Card Granny and Raise for discounted gift cards.
Both sites will purchase unwanted gift cards at a discounted rate and turn around to sell them for a discounted price.
They have plenty of gift cards with values up to 27% off for flights and parks. If you’re going to be visiting Disney, be sure to sign up for notifications, as Disney Park tickets can be hard to come by.
15. Don’t forget to use Yapta to get free airfare returns for over $200 savings.
Let Yapta track your flights, and if the price drops, they’ll email the company on your behalf for a partial refund. Some airlines they track are:
- Alaska (refund for any price drop)
- Virgin America (refund for drops over $75)
- JetBlue (refund for drops over $75)
- Hawaiian (refund for drops over $100)
- American (refund for drops over $200)
- Delta (refund for drops over $200)
- United (refund for drops over $200)
Alaska, American and Delta have a 24-hour policy for refunds, where some other airlines like United allow fare refunds up to 30 days after you purchase your ticket.
16. Get a passport card instead of a passport book to save $80 on adults and $65 on children.
Instead of getting a passport book for $145 per adult and $115 per child, consider getting passport cards, which cost $65 per adult and $50 per child and may be used when traveling internationally by land or sea.
It works for going to Mexico, Canada, Bermuda and the Caribbean.
17. Don’t forget to use Prime Now to purchase things you couldn’t pack.
Instead of running to a gift shop, save time and money by ordering essentials from Prime Now. This is especially helpful when you are traveling without a checked bag and need sunscreen, shampoo and other liquids you couldn’t pack.
Make sure to order at least $35 worth to avoid the $7.99 shipping fee. Check here to see if Prime Now is available in the city you’re visiting.
18. Don’t spend too much money at restaurants by splitting large entrees between people and saving 50%.
The average meal out costs $12.75 a person but tends to be higher in big tourist areas. Cut the cost in half by splitting meals between two people. The portion sizes are usually big enough for a couple of people anyway, and you can always add on an appetizer.
19. Don’t spend too much on attractions — bundle deals.
Look for city passes if you’re planning on doing a lot of tourist attractions. In England, the London Pass is $99.00 for an adult one-day ticket that gets you into a ton of places. Just by touring Westminster Abbey ($28.98/person), the Tower of London ($35.31/person), and going on a bus tour ($44.79/person), you’d save $10/person. Savings go up from there.
You can find city passes in tons of cities including Seattle, New York City, Denver, Dublin and more.
20. Don’t eat at the airport — bring snacks.
Do you really want to spend $10 for a ham and cheese sandwich? Bring simple snacks to tide you over and save big.