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7 ways to shave vacation costs without scrimping

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Planning a summer vacation shouldn't require busting your budget for insignificant benefits -- like being able to check a bag. But in today's "gotcha" economy, added costs for "resort fees" and "foreign transaction fees" can slip below the radar, padding your travel costs dramatically for services you might not want, need or use.

You don't have to fork over for these often hidden costs, however. Savvy travelers can sidestep the nickel-and-diming -- and even find ways to save on things you value.

"Some fees are not avoidable, but a number of them are," said Miriam Cross, a travel columnist for Kiplinger Personal Finance Magazine. "If you can be flexible, you can save a lot of money."

Here are seven ways to shave travel costs without scrimping on what you want to do.

Compare flight days

If have a two-week vacation, it probably doesn't matter whether you fly from Saturday to Saturday or from Tuesday to Tuesday, but choosing the right travel dates could save you a lot of money. Consider someone booking a summer flight to London from Los Angeles. If this person left on Tuesday, July 3, flight and returned two weeks later on July 17, the cheapest flight would cost $757 -- and the cheapest nonstop would run nearly $1,000, according to Google Flights.

But if you returned home one day earlier, on Monday, July 16, the cheapest flight would be $72 less. And if your dates were really flexible, you could save $100 to $300 (depending on whether you chose a nonstop) by leaving a few weeks later. Notably, Google flights also allows you to set up fare alerts to see if prices to your favorite destinations are falling.

Be flexible

The most costly way to travel is to pick a destination, dates of travel and then start booking flights and hotels, said Cross. The smarter choice is to do your price comparisons first, and then set your dates. Cross, an avid traveler, is even a fan of choosing a destination according to where you can get the cheapest flights. A site called Scott'sCheapFlights will alert you when, say, you can fly from New York to Paris for $260.


Speaking of being flexible, you might want to consider swapping your home/apartment instead of booking hotels. A number of websites, including HomeExchange and LoveHomeSwap, allow you to search for other travelers who might want to stay in your house while you stay in theirs. People who have engaged in home swaps often rave about the process, maintaining that they've built lasting relationships with their host/guest families.

Although the websites that arrange these deals charge annual subscription fees, they typically amount to the cost of a night or two in a hotel. For those on a long vacation in a single city, a house swap can save a fortune.

Resort fee-for-all

If you do book a hotel, be sure to watch for "resort fees" while you're price-shopping. Once imposed at a relative handful of locations, these fees have become increasingly commonplace. They aren't not pocket-change, either, adding $25 to $40 to the average daily cost of the room, according to the PointsGuy. And even though hotels say these charges pay for "extras" like swimming pool and gym access, you can't get the fee waived even if you have no intention of using those services. So, again, look before you book.

Watch bag charges

And before you book the cheapest flight, take a gander at the airline's fee schedule, too. Many carriers advertise low fares, but they make up the difference by gouging travelers who want to check a bag. TravelZoo has a graphic that allows you to check airline fees by carrier. If you're planning to check a bag, be sure to add those fees, if any, into the final cost when you're price-comparing.

Choose your payment card carefully

Paying your expenses with a credit card while traveling offers a wide array of benefits, including the promise of getting the best currency exchange rates. However, check your issuer's policy on foreign transaction fees. They typically amount to 3 percent of every transaction, and they're easily avoidable.

Capital One, Barclays, Discover and USAA all offer credit cards that impose no foreign transaction fees, according to a new study by WalletHub. Most of these cards also offer emergency travel help, trip cancellation protection and other benefits. 

Notably, too, paying with a credit card often gets you free rental car insurance. However, in some cases, you may need a letter stating that you have this coverage. In Ireland, for example, car rental companies commonly require that you buy insurance coverage, or provide written proof of coverage before you take a car out of the lot.

Get the app

You should know that if your flight is canceled or significantly delayed, the airline may owe you some form of compensation. And it can be particularly generous when you're traveling overseas. If you're willing to understand and protect your rights in these situations, you can get paid in both cash and vouchers.

However, if you're not willing to do the work yourself, several apps, including one called Service, will make the claim for you. The downside: The app will keep 30 percent of your savings, said Cross. 

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