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For many people, saving money on vacation is one of the biggest things to think about when planning a family trip or dream vacation. In fact, that was the whole reason I ended up looking into miles, points and credit cards, back in 2013.

We had a family reunion planned for the next summer in Lake Tahoe, and I knew that 8 cross-country plane tickets would be several thousand dollars and might make the difference in us being able to attend or not. So I did some research, ended up signing up for a travel credit card or five, and then used 170,000 Southwest Rapid Reward points for our flights.

a boy sitting in the sand on a beach

Over the years, miles, points and credit cards have allowed our family to travel way more than we otherwise would have been able to do so. And while miles and points are good for covering some types of expenses, there are other expenses that miles and points don’t do very well. In this article, we’ll look into how to save money on your vacation travel expenses, including vacation food savings, summer vacation travel costs and how to score travel savings.

How to Save Money on Vacation Travel Expenses

One of the biggest costs for your family vacation will be the travel expenses for getting to your destination. This is especially true if you are flying to your dream beach vacation spot (and especially if you have lots of kids like me). One way to cut down on these types of travel expenses is to take a domestic trip to somewhere closer to your home. This kind of road trip allows you to drive to your destination, which will drastically reduce your travel expenses. It will pretty much end up being just trips to the gas station or maybe an extra night in a hotel. Even if you need to get a rental car, you’ll be better off with a car rental or driving than flying in many cases.

The miles and points that you earn with rewards card signup bonuses and spending can also help here. Airline miles can be some of the easiest miles to get through credit card spending. And while it can be expensive to use miles for domestic flights, especially if you have a family and need multiple tickets, the best use of your miles is to get your family where you want to go, when you want to go there. While it may not be as “exotic” to fly in United economy as compared to Emirates First Class, if it gets you where you want to go, then go for it.

How to Save Money on Hotels During Vacation

Hotels are another place where credit card travel rewards can make a big difference. There are many co-branded hotel travel credit cards that offer points that you can use to book free hotel rooms for your vacation trip. Credit cards that offer flexible points like the Capital One Venture or Chase Sapphire Preferred can be another option. With those types of “cash” points, you can just redeem them for a flat amount. With many hotel chains (especially anything other than Hyatt), it’s nearly always cheaper to book for cash or cash points than to redeem an award stay.

a kitchen with a staircase and a sink

A vacation rental can be another great option. While there aren’t that many great ways to book an Airbnb stay with points (other than paying for it out of pocket and using a purchase eraser card like the Capital One Venture), the partnership between Wyndham and Vacasa makes for a great option. Wyndham points are easy to come by, either from the credit card signups or transfers from Capital One Venture miles. We booked a Vacasa “1 bedroom” vacation rental that slept 10 in the Smoky Mountains last fall for 67,500 Wyndham points. The cash price on the unit was more than $2,000, giving incredible value for our points.

How to Save Money on Food While on Vacation

Saving money on food while on vacation can be a bit of a challenge. One insider tip is to look for a vacation rental or larger hotel room that has a kitchen. Even if it might cost a little extra than a smaller hotel room, you might make up the difference by being able to save money during your hotel stay on food by buying food from a grocery store instead of always eating out for every meal. Staying with a hotel chain that offers complimentary breakfast or even a hotel that offers dinner can also cut down on food expenses. While we have done some hotel room cooking without a traditional kitchen, it may not be for everyone.

(SEE ALSO: 37 Different Hotels: This Is What Breakfast During COVID Looks Like)

The other insider tip about food on vacation is to not stress about it TOO much. Set a vacation food budget, but allow yourself some “fun” vacation meals, if that is important to you. You don’t want to spend your entire Disney vacation eating peanut butter and jelly back in the hotel room. So while it makes sense to give yourself a vacation budget, use some of that extra money that you’ve saved to live a little.

Tips to Make Your Money Stretch Further on Vacation

Another option for saving money on your vacation travel expenses is to make a travel budget during the year. If travel is something that is important to you, then set up a vacation fund or other type of savings account. You can transfer money from your checking account or savings account towards your vacation budget each month. Set a savings goal, then put extra money, holiday bonus money, tax refund money, a gift card you’ve been given or any extra cash into it throughout the year. Just make sure you keep enough money for an emergency fund as well. Doing this will make sure that you will have plenty of money in your vacation savings account for your dream trip when it’s time to hit the road.

What are your biggest tips to save money on a family vacation? Leave them in the comments.

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