The secret to planning affordable family vacations is having a game plan that's simple and surefire.
Here's how to set up a never-fail, no-brainer vacation planning system that will ensure you are always able to find a great getaway at an affordable price. The idea is to create a repository of deals and special offers that you can turn to every time you plan a vacation.
Step 1: Create a Free Email Account
Create a new e-mail account specifically for vacation ideas and deals.
Any of these free e-mail providers will do. When naming your account, keep in mind that this is essentially going to be a slush pile where you'll get a lot of alerts and newsletters. There will be no personal messaging, so go ahead and give it a name that's easy to remember (e.g., email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org) and choose an equally easy-to-recall password (e.g., familyvacation, vacation123)
Step 2: Sign Up For Essential Hotel Deal Alerts
The easiest way to keep family vacation costs down? Choose a destination within driving distance of where you live.
These essential dealfinding sites will hook you up with fabulous getaway deals within driving distance of your home. Sign up for newsletters and alerts using your newly created vacations e-mail account.
Regional Hotel Deals
Beyond local deal sites, the best national dealfinders include properties in your region, as well as inspiration for trips further afield.
National & International Hotel Deals
AARP Travel Deals
If you're over 50, AARP membership gets you travel discounts on hotels, restaurants, cruises, rental cars and more.
Step 3: Be The First to Know About Great Airfare Deals
For trips where it makes more sense to fly, sign up for alerts from sites that track airfares. If you choose just one, make it AirfareWatchdog, which lets you key your alerts to your home airport.
Step 4: Round Out Your Hotel Wish List
Next, give some thought to your favorite travel brands and hotels you've always wanted to visit. Nearly every hotel has an e-mail signup for special offers.
- favorite national hotel chains (Got more than 2 kids? Here's our list of favorite chains for big families)
- favorite hotels and resorts in your region
Step 5: Get with the Program
Increasingly we're seeing that hotel brands communicate the best deals to their loyalty program members. For example, when you sign up for a hotel loyalty program, you are likely to snag a discount on a room as well as perks like free wi-fi, free breakfast or parking.
A few well-known programs:
- Wyndham Rewards (Wyndham, Ramada, Days Inn, Travelodge, more)
- Marriott Rewards (Ritz-Carlton, Marriott, Westin, Sheraton, Residence Inn, SpringHill Suites, more)
- Hilton Honors (Hilton, Embassy Suites, DoubleTree Suites, Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites, more)
- Hyatt Gold Passport (Hyatt Regency, Hyatt Place, Hyatt House, more)
- Choice Privileges (Comfort Suites, Sleep Inn, Clarion, Mainstay Suites, more)
So if you have a preference for certain brands, there is a huge upside to signing up.
Step 6: Don't Forget Cruise Lines
If you like cruising, or if you've always wondered what it's like, add some family-friendly cruise lines to the mix:
Step 7: Glean Deals from Tourist Offices
Next, visit the tourism organization web sites for your home state, neighboring states, and regional or city destinations within driving distance of your home. Look for a sign-up for a newsletter promising to keep you informed about deals.
Here are some tourism organizations with newsletters that share travel deals:
State Tourism Organizations
City and Regional Tourism Organizations
Step 8: Sit Back and Watch the Deals Come In
The beauty of this system is that it puts your vacation dealhunting on autopilot. Once you've set up your e-mail account and subscribed to your choice of alerts and newsletters, the deals will come to you without your having to lift a finger.
You can subscribe or unsubscribe to as many alerts as you like, tweaking and customizing until you get the ideal mix of deals that you want.