FREDERICTON - With a new year underway many of us are thinking ahead to vacation time but, with today's economic pressures, it can be difficult to set aside the cash for a big trip.
The goal is to have an enjoyable vacation without breaking the bank.
There are lots of ways to be frugal with your vacation budget.
"It's not about being cheap," said Gary Howard of the Canadian Automobile Association. "It's about stretching your vacation dollar."
Start by asking what you want from your vacation and then look at your options.
"As an example, an all-inclusive week in Cuba might be far less expensive than three nights in New York," Howard said.
He suggests avoiding travelling in peak seasons as a way to save some money.
"There are peak seasons and shoulder seasons in everything that you do, whether it is a cruise, Disney World, Myrtle Beach, the Caribbean, or whatever it might be," he said.
Off-season rates for hotels and resorts are often a fraction of the peak price.
But don't always just go for the lowest price, Howard said. Paying a bit more for a larger room or one that has a kitchenette could improve your vacation experience or even save you money in the long run by allowing you to prepare some meals there.
At many hotels breakfast is included in the cost of the accommodation, which can be a substantial saving, especially for a large family.
Consider having your big meal of the day at lunch time when many restaurants have deals, or packing a picnic lunch to tote along with you.
When it comes to travel, you can often find discounts by flying mid-week rather than on a weekend.
Howard advises booking your trip early to get the best selection.
But Peter Dielissen of Fredericton, N.B., is a proponent of using websites like Priceline.com and Hotwire.com to bid on rooms in an effort to save money.
The 66-year-old has also made great use of his Aeroplan points to travel around the globe on many occasions.
He lived and worked in Toronto, Vancouver and Yukon before moving to Fredericton and began collecting Aeroplan points on his flights and on a credit card that gives points for purchases.
"I started putting everything on my credit card," Dielissen said.
"When I retired in 2007 I had one million Aeroplan points."
Howard said when looking for a deal on flights, don't just check your local airport. You can often find savings by flying from another airport located a few hours drive away.
Consider driving to your vacation destination if it is a reasonable distance. The savings can be multiplied when you look at the price of gas for one vehicle versus airplane tickets for all members of your family.
As well, there may be things to see and do along the way that you would miss by flying — adding extra value to your vacation time.
Many hotels offer loyalty points you can exchange for free rooms, upgrades or other perks.
It is worth signing up in advance for their programs because the points from one trip could provide free rooms for your next vacation. Also watch for promotions when you can collect bonus points for stays during specific dates.
Joining an auto club like CAA can more than pay for itself when you take advantage of hotel, restaurant and attraction discounts, plus the access to free maps, travel books and expert advice.
Good advice can save you a lot of money. Ask friends and family about a destination before you make your plans.
The Internet has become an endless source of information to allow you to research a vacation, compare and book hotels, find attractions and restaurants, and generally help you get the most out of your trip.
Many hotels offer a discount if you book online. Some offer a substantial discount if you pay in advance, but there may be no refund if you need to cancel.
"Do your research online, speak with family and friends, but when it comes to doing your actual booking the best value you're going to be able to get is from a travel agent," Howard said. "These people have the experience, they have the technology and they can save you a lot of time."
Complete vacation packages such as all-inclusive trips to Caribbean resorts can provide a great saving over paying for flights, hotels, meals and drinks separately.
Howard said cruises also offer a great value for your vacation dollar.
"You can take a seven-day cruise and visit five countries," he said. "There are lots of activities onboard, your meals are included, and you've got entertainment onboard."
"It's a multi-faceted vacation all in one."
There are lots of other ways to stretch your vacation dollar, ranging from the use of free hotel shuttles to avoiding roaming charges on your cellphone while you travel.
Howard said it just makes sense to get the most out of your vacation dollar.
"It's your vacation and you can't get that time back," he said.
If You Go...
Here are a couple of websites to get you started researching your specific destination. There are also many other websites to look at for money-saving ideas.