(BPT) - By Jason Gaughan, Head of Consumer Credit Card Products at Bank of America
The time for summer travel is upon us. Bank of America's recent vacation trends survey found that 68% of people plan to take a vacation this year, and 32% tend to plan their travel one to three months in advance. That means many travelers are getting their plans for summer trips in order now.
While vacationers are eager to get away, they're also mindful of spending-recent insights note that factors such as inflation, slowing wages and lower tax refunds have many Americans keeping a closer eye on their wallets.
The good news is you don't have to miss out on memorable summer vacations while being budget-conscious. Consider these tips to help you make smart, cost-effective travel plans:
1. Plan ahead and save before you travel.
For those who plan to travel, it's important to put a vacation budget in place to ensure you can enjoy all aspects of your trip. As you think ahead towards your next adventure, take a look at how much you've already saved for vacation and then work backward to save the additional money you think you'll need in the time left before your trip.
If you still haven't set your vacation plans for the summer, you're not alone. Bank of America's recent consumer survey also found that 10% of consumers plan trips only weeks in advance and another 10% don't plan in advance at all. If you're a spontaneous traveler, ensure you're saving year-round so you can avoid putting yourself in a financial bind when you book a trip.
2. Use cash rewards cards to offset travel costs.
Even the most frugal travelers end up spending money-that's just part of the experience. Consider using a cash back credit card to help offset some of your vacation expenses.
With the Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards credit card, each month you can choose to earn 3% cash back in one of six spending categories, including travel, dining, gas and more. For example, you could choose the travel category for the months you'll be booking your accommodations and flights, and then switch to a new category for the month you'll be traveling, like dining, to maximize your cash back on those purchases during your trip. You can also use the rewards you earned while planning your trip to offset some of your purchases during the getaway. Or, if you're planning more vacations down the road, putting your cash rewards into a savings account dedicated to travel can help cover the costs of future trips.
By using a flexible rewards card, you can maximize cash back earnings not only as you prepare to travel, but also when you make purchases during your trip.
3. Layer rewards and loyalty programs.
Before booking summer travel, be sure you're enrolled in travel rewards programs that can help you earn points, cash back and special offers to use on future trips - such as airline, gas station and hotel rewards programs. Already enrolled? Be sure to check if you have travel rewards to redeem!
Along with points for free hotel rooms or gift cards for popular restaurants and retailers, hotel loyalty programs often offer perks like discounted rates, early check-ins or late check-outs and free room upgrades. And airlines tend to have frequent flyer programs, where you can earn points per mile to redeem for future trips. If you're taking a road trip, you can even find additional savings when signing up for your favorite restaurant or gas station rewards programs.
No matter how you travel this summer, make sure you're earning maximum points, perks and cash back on your spending by layering together your frequent flier, hotel, gas, dining, shopping loyalty programs and paying with a rewards credit card.
4. Be as flexible as possible.
When it comes to dates, accommodations, attractions and destinations, flexibility is key to saving money while traveling. Look into the cheapest days to book travel and consider scheduling vacations for off-peak times. Vacation rentals tend to have higher prices for weekends and holidays, so book your stays outside of those windows whenever possible.
Being flexible with the activities you're including in your itinerary can help, too. Be sure to research free activities at your destination. Bank of America's recent travel survey found that 30% of travelers consider attractions to be the highest priority for vacations, and 17% said time outdoors tops their list. Fortunately, many outdoor must-sees like parks, national landmarks and beaches can be free or very affordable.
Summer is a peak travel season for many reasons. Kids are out of school, adult travelers may find it easier to take time away from work and really unwind, and it's the season of sunshine and clear skies in many destinations. But just because it's a prime time for travel doesn't mean it has to break the bank. These tips can help you spend wisely while having a summer vacation to remember.