• Open a new travel credit card for upfront and ongoing savings
  • The sweet spot to buy your flight (28-35 days)
  • Don’t forget low-cost carriers (but know the rules)
  • When to buy travel insurance (know the 14-day policy)
  • Unused timeshares could slash your resort cost
  • Staycation ideas

(WSPA) – If you have the travel bug, you are not alone.

85% of Americans are taking some sort of summer vacation.  

While planning ahead leads to the greatest discounts, it is not too late to snag some deals, especially if you’re willing to think outside the box.

Credit card points

With few last-minute discounts on flights and hotels this time of year, one option to save is to apply for a credit card that offers upfront travel rewards plus ongoing points.  

Some cards cover general travel, others are directly associated with hotel chains or airlines.  

Frequent flyer Bob Grzegorek has two associated with his favorite hotels and loves using the perks.  

“I get a free room with each of them,” he said.  

So which one do you choose?  

Sites like The Points Guy rate cards to help you decide what’s best for you.

Their “TPG” app can help you track your rewards and optimize spending.

One important thing to note: Be sure to pay off the cards each month to avoid interest, or all those savings will be for not.

When to buy a flight

Associate Professor Tom Wright, at Wofford College, has been to all 7 continents and teaches a course on travel hacking.

“The biggest trick is, think like a business traveler, and then do the opposite,” he said.  

Wright said when it comes to buying a flight:

  • avoid Sunday night or Monday morning departures
  • stay over on a Saturday night
  • when possible, book in the sweet spot
    • domestic flights: book 28-35 days in advance
    • International flights: book 3-10 months in advance, keep in mind, the cheapest months to travel are February and March 

How to scope out the best flight

There are a lot of sites that will help you compare airline costs.

Wright said he preferred to use Google Flights since it maps out prices to your destination as well as nearby locations, so you can choose the cheapest option.

The site makes it easy for you to choose your price range and see exactly what is available to your destination and nearby.

Also, while round trip is usually the cheapest option, keep in mind, when flying abroad some airlines will allow you to book a lengthy “layover” in a different city and still consider that a roundtrip, so look for that option when booking abroad so you can see more.

When flying domestically, don’t forget the low-cost carriers, which are not always included on sites like Google Flights or Kayak.

A new economy airline just added flights at GSP called Avelo.

Frontier has an “All You Can Fly” summer pass for $499 and has already released a cheaper one for the winter.

“You can go anywhere, so as of right now that is a lot of my summer,” said Wright.

He bought the pass after reading about the limits on when you can book, which are strict so make sure you know those before buying.

Traveler Sharon Frangipani also warns to beware of hidden fees with economy airlines for things like exceeding very strict bag size limits for both checked bags and carry-ons.

“Follow the rules to the T. There is no deviation,” Frangipani explained.

Now, if you are not sure you want to jump on a fare you see online, but you also don’t want to miss the price, the US Dept of Transportation’s 24-hour refund regulation is on your side.

All airlines that fly in the US must let you cancel within one day of booking.

What about travel insurance?

Travel Agent Patricia Robbins with Cruise Planners recommended you book flights in the morning to avoid weather delays.

She also said travel insurance is a smart option under these circumstances:

  • if your vacation is costly
  • you have elderly family members at home
  • especially if you have health issues

Robbins warned when you buy travel insurance can make a big difference because with many policies if you purchase it within 14 days of booking your trip, it will cover most pre-existing health conditions.

If you book after that, it often will not.

“The insurance companies go really deep into your medical history,” according to Robbins. “And they are going to go back really deep, and they could say ‘we saw 18 months ago that you had a kidney stone so that’s pre-existing,’ so you know, if it were not in that window, it’s probably not going to be covered.”

Whatever you do, Robbins said to read the policy before you buy and be sure to also check with your credit card company to see if they also have a policy that you can use for comparison.

Timeshare rental discounts

If you are willing to try something new to get great savings, even last minute, travelers have found rock bottom deals on sites that rent unused timeshares like BlueGreen Vacations or Facebook pages associated with timeshare rentals.

Just make sure they are reputable.

Companies like these will rent out vacant timeshares for a low cost that allows the owners to recoup maintenance fees while providing a great deal to the renter, so it’s a win-win.  

Again, make sure you are working with a legitimate company.  

Shannon Jamison stayed at a Missouri resort for only the cost of the timeshare maintenance and fees.

She was nervous that it was not legitimate but said she ended up having an amazing luxurious retreat for a fraction of the price.

“I only paid $575 for 5 days and 4 nights in a one-bedroom villa,” Jamison said. “I want to do it again.”

Grzegorek even got a $675 room for attending a timeshare meeting.

“One night was free for doing that, so that’s another thing you can take advantage of. You got to be able to say no,” Grzegorek explained.

Meanwhile, Wright prepays bills on his credit cards to rack up more points ahead of travel, one way he’s been able to make it to 70 countries.    

“That’s what I love about travel hacking and travel, because it’s about dreaming, right, and all this stuff is about getting that to happen,” Wright said. 

A few more ways to save and enjoy

For drivers, Gas Buddy can help you find the cheapest price.

We all know the grocery store is always easier on the wallet than dining out.

Also, in just about every city you can search online “kids eat free” to find restaurants that offer that discount.

As for fun ideas for staycations, Kidding Around Greenville looked into family-friendly options near the Upstate.

Frangipani, who has teenage daughters said to find the very best restaurants and activities, search for the location of your destination on TikTok.

She said her family has found great ideas on where to eat and what to do simply through the posts of others.

She added TikTok has been even more effective than Google Reviews or Yelp.