NEW YORK (AP) — Vacations are a great way to relax, reconnect with family and escape the daily grind of work. But they can also quickly drain your savings account. So here are five of our favorite tips to save a bit of cash on your next trip.
SEARCH FOR JUST ONE AIRLINE TICKET
Airlines set aside seats in a series of fare buckets or classes. We aren't talking about first class vs. economy class. No, these classes are those tiny letters you often see next to a flight, such as L, Q, K or U. The seats are the same; the price isn't.
A fare bucket might have nine tickets left for sale or just one. And here's where it gets tricky. If there is just one ticket left but you are searching for two or more seats, the airline will skip over that cheapest ticket and offer seats in the next fare class up.
Bargain hunters should always search for one seat at a time. Then increase your search up to the number of tickets you actually want. If the price is the same, go ahead a book it. If the price is different, consider booking two separate itineraries; the first at the cheaper price, the second for the remaining passengers at the higher price. But beware: If your flight is canceled, your party might be split when rebooked onto a new flight.
AVOID BAG FEES
Getting an airline branded credit card can mean no checked luggage fees. This isn't always advisable, but can save a large family substantially.
Airlines typically charge $25 each way for the first checked suitcase. For a couple checking two bags, that means an extra $100. Add in a suitcase for a kid and you are looking at $150.
American Airlines, Delta Airlines and United Airlines all have credit cards that waive those fees. The cards carry a $95 annual fee, so you really need to do your math.
Make sure to read the fine print. All three airlines require you to use the credit card to book your flight. United only waives the fee for the cardholder and one companion. American allows three companions and Delta waives the fee for up to eight others. Everybody must be on the same reservation.
SAVE ON LIFT TICKETS
This is one area where paying in advance almost always saves money. Most ski resorts now offer online ticket sales at a pretty substantial discount. The catch: you must commit to the mountain and — in many cases — exact dates. If the weather is poor, you are out of luck.
For instance, Colorado's Aspen Snowmass resort is offering four-day adult lift tickets during the peak of this year's season for $476 at the ticket window. Purchase the same ticket at least a week in advance and save $40.
Some mountains offer more flexibility. Utah's Brighton sells a one-day ticket for $75 at the mountain. But a print-at-home ticket valid any day during the season is just $68.
For further savings, consider Liftopia.com, which sells advance tickets for specific dates. Locking in a lift ticket now for an early January Tuesday at Brighton brought the price down to $53. In some cases, Liftopia adds in ski rentals or food vouchers, which can save more.
KEEP CHECKING CAR RENTALS
Most car rental reservations can easily be canceled or changed up until you pick up the vehicle. If prices fall, you can rebook at the lower rate. But most travelers don't have the time to constantly recheck prices.
That's where AutoSlash.com comes in. The site tracks your rentals. First, book a reservation with one of the big car rental companies. Then enter the reservation details into AutoSlash. The site will email you if a better deal is available.
DECLINE CAR RENTAL INSURANCE
Car rental firms sell collision damage waiver (CDW) insurance for up to $25 extra a day. It offers protection from theft, vandalism or other damage.
Your personal insurance policy likely covers rentals. It probably also extends liability insurance. But confirm this with the insurer long before you get to the rental counter.
Many credit cards offer rental car insurance. Some offer primary insurance. Most only cover what your personal insurance does not. And cards have plenty of exclusions. If you are renting for more than two weeks or traveling to Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Australia, Italy or New Zealand, you might not be covered. Exotic and luxury cars, some vans, motorcycles and SUVs aren't covered.
Debit cards typically don't offer much coverage.
Follow Scott Mayerowitz at twitter.com/GlobeTrotScott. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/scott-mayerowitz