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For cheap flights, hotels: Plan vacations far in advance

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Kirstin Scholtz/Association of Surfing Professionals/AP/File

(Read caption) In this February 2012 file photo, Kelly Slater competes in the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast surfing competition in Gold Coast, Australia. The earlier you know where your vacation destination is, the longer you have to shop around for bargains on travel, Hamm writes.

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After a few weeks of discussing bill paying strategies in this series, we’re going to shift gears and look at vacations during much of the month of December.

Vacations? The kind of things that most people take in the summer? Why would we talk about them in December?

Frankly, right now is about the latest time you want to be planning your vacation for next summer if you want to maximize the bang for your buck.

Why would you want to plan vacations so far in advance?

For starters, the earlier you know where your destination is, the longer you have to shop around for bargains on travel. No matter what you’re purchasing, the longer you give yourself to find bargains on that purchase, the more likely you are to find a bargain. 

Another advantage of deciding where and when you’re going to travel far in advance is that it’s much easier to get the exact days off that you want. At most jobs, it’s very difficult to get the days off that you want – particularly if you want several days off – if you wait until the last minute.

Even more important, it allows you to take advantage of truly low rates. For example, flights on Wednesdays are generally the least expensive flights. So, if you’re going on a weeklong trip, plan both of your flights on Wednesdays.

To do that, of course, you’ll need a lot of advance notice at work in order to get off a Wednesday through Friday stretch followed by a Monday through Wednesday stretch.

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Another important factor to note is that airline and hotel prices vary throughout a week as well as throughout a year. Generally, prices hit a low point several months away from the actual date of the trip, and it’s been established pretty clearly that Tuesday afternoons tend to be the cheapest time of the week to reserve a flight.

Knowing those facts – and having your trip planned out well in advance – enables you to save a lot on an airline ticket. I recently traveled to the Indianapolis area, a trip I knew I’d be taking about eight months in advance. I sat there and watched the ticket prices fluctuate over time, and I was also somewhat flexible on the days and the time of day that I flew out.

The end result of planning that far in advance is that my airline tickets were incredibly cheap. I flew round trip for roughly what my gasoline cost would have been to drive there and back – and it took me about six hours less time – and I didn’t have any wear and tear on my car.

Planning ahead – far ahead – for your travel saves you real cash.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. 

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