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How to go -- without going broke

The pros' advice: Be flexible on when you go, grab those coupons and sample the street food.

October 26, 2008|Catharine Hamm | Hamm is a Times staff writer.

When the world went to financial hell in a handbasket in the Great Depression, people went to the movies. Today they go to Montana or maybe even Mongolia.

But if your 401(k) just did a swan dive -- and whose didn't? -- you may be considering putting your vacation plans on ice.

It's a very personal choice, but you can guess which way we're leaning.

Besides, armed with this list of strategies and tips, you'll save so much money, it won't even feel as though you're spending money.

OK, perhaps a bit of hyperbole there, but none from the experts we've talked to, who will help you wring the last bit of value out of your travel dollar. To wit:

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, October 28, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Car rental: An article in Sunday's Travel section on money-saving ideas said Enterprise gives 50% off weekend car rentals if customers have rented Monday through Friday. The article should have said Friday through Monday.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, November 02, 2008 Home Edition Travel Part L Page 3 Features Desk 1 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
Car rental: An Oct. 26 Travel article on trips and strategies for saving money ("How to Go -- Without Going Broke") said that Enterprise car rental gives 50% off weekend rentals if customers have rented Monday through Friday. Enterprise gives half off for rentals Friday through Monday.

Begin with the end result in mind, not the end. Grammarians may take exception to the phrase "end result," but bargain hunters should not, not if it helps them focus on what they want from their vacation, not where the vacation should be. "I tell friends and family to sit down with a blank slate," said Carl Schwartz, chief travel officer for search site, "then let price be the determining factor." So if you want to relax on a beach, don't automatically decide that it's Mexico or nada. Look at the available spectrum and choose what fits your budget.

Bonus tip: Airfares to Hawaii have been dropping. I recently found (but it may no longer be available) a $383 round-trip fare on Continental from LAX to Honolulu for Nov. 5 to 12. I also found a $290 Mexicana fare to Cabo San Lucas from LAX, although it comes with a catch: It's a red-eye with a long layover in Mexico City, raising the question: How much will I suffer for savings?

Look for coupons and promo codes. Bargain hunters of any stripe know they can do this when shopping online, whether it's for clothes or ink jet cartridges, just by Googling "coupons" and "promo codes." Do the same with travel. You can also try, a site run by self-professed bargain fiend Karen Hoxmeier of Temecula. Search the site for such travel providers as Travelocity, Orbitz, Expedia and others.

Bonus tip: The Entertainment books of coupons, which offer discounts on restaurants and attractions, will pay for themselves if you're staying in one spot for a while. A newcomer to the crowd,, offers coupons in your destination city (or may; it's still growing) that you can print.

Don't focus solely on airfare. U.S. consumers have trained themselves to shop for airfares, and that's fine. But remember that the cost of accommodations can take an even bigger bite out of your vacation budget than the cost of your flight. So consider carefully where you'll stay. Look for packages at hotels. (To maintain price integrity, many are offering a free night if you stay three or four.) Or consider renting a condo, which means you may be able to have two or three bedrooms instead of having to rent two or three hotel rooms. Or consider a house swap through such organizations as, Vacation Exchange Network and others. And for the adventuresome, there's always, in which you sleep on someone's couch, then return the favor.

Bonus tip: If you're staying a bit, consider a longer-term rental, says Linda Johnson of Long Beach, who wrote in with her budget tip. Last spring, she spent more than two months in Cornwall, England, in a rented place and spent about $1,000 a month. Compare that with hotel costs in Britain; the State Department's housing allowance for Bristol, for instance, is $274 a night. Multiply that by 30 days, and you're in a world of financial hurt.

Bonus tip No. 2: For the shorter term, accrue frequent-stayer points at a favorite hotel group. (And if you're slow to accumulate points, use a program in which the points don't expire, says Don Berg, vice president of loyalty programs for InterContinental Hotels Group, whose points, coincidentally, don't expire.)

When you do focus on airfare, take a look at the big picture. The rules of the booking game change from day to day and week to week, but here are some standards: You can usually fly cheaper on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and, sometimes, late on Saturdays; fares generally will be lower a couple of weeks before major holidays or big travel periods; check alternate airports (Oakland instead of San Francisco, Providence, R.I., instead of Boston); and sign up for the airlines' e-savers e-mails.

Bonus tip: If your dates aren't set in stone, try the flexible fare finder on many airline websites. For instance, for a US Airways flight to LaGuardia, N.Y., leaving Nov. 13 from LAX and returning Nov. 20, the fare was $230. But leaving Nov. 25 and returning Nov. 30, it was $918, showing how a holiday can take all the joy out of budget travel.

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