Spending Your Tax Refund on a Vacation: Winter Budget Travel Tips from the Experts
February 25, 2013 : Jenna Bromberg - Past Contributor
Congratulations! You’ve received your tax refund! What are you going to do next? Buy a TV? Invest it? Pay off debt? Or will you be among the 12% of Americans who choose to spend their refund on a vacation? If you’re looking to head somewhere soon — and don’t want to spend much more than your refund — you’ll need to pay close attention to your budget and choose your destination wisely. For some budget winter travel pointers, we turned to some of our favorite personal finance, travel & lifestyle experts and asked them:
How do you save on winter travel?
Late winter/early spring is one of the best times to look for airfare deals. However, make sure you watch out for any tricky hidden fees. Airlines are charging for services that used to be included in the base fare, like baggage fees, booking fees and changing fees.
To avoid booking fees, always book online. Most domestic carriers charge an extra $20 to $50 when tickets are booked over the phone. Additionally, for a short getaway, save money by packing only a carry-on (and make sure it’s within the carry-on luggage size). All airlines except Spirit and Allegiant allow a free carry-on bag. If you must check in a bag, fly JetBlue or Southwest, which both allow at least one free checked bag. Above all, do not change a ticket afterwards. Some airlines will charge up to $100 for a ticket change, which can be higher than the value of the original ticket.
Jason Steele, Personal Finance/Travel Expert
There are two ways to approach winter travel – escape the cold or embrace it.
When I am looking to escape the cold, I fly right past the Caribbean to South America where it is now summer. In particular, Brazil features exotic cities, amazing landscapes, incredible food and a favorable exchange rate. Consider the city of Salvador in northern Brazil – it is known as the cultural capital of Brazil as it has its own unique dance, music and cuisine. Another great find is the island of Fernando de Naronha, 200 miles off the mainland. It has spectacular beaches and its abundant wildlife has earned it a reputation as the Galapagos of the Atlantic.
For those embracing the cold, I recommend visiting the mountains outside of Salt Lake City. Unlike Colorado, Utah has abundant snow this year and is a very convenient destination. There are seven large ski areas less than one hour’s drive from the airport. In fact, it is even possible to get a full day of skiing in on Sunday, catch a flight home that evening and be at work Monday morning.
Winters definitely get long in Minnesota, and they’re typically unpredictable. It’s not unusual for travel to be affected by snow, ice, or even rain this time of year. Those delays can really wreak havoc on the best laid travel plans.
My advice for beating the winter doldrums on a budget: Staycation!
Plan a short road trip and only pay for the cost of gas instead of pricey airline tickets. You can find some fabulous deals on hotels and restaurants within an hour or two of home through sites like Living Social. Ask your hotel whether they offer discounts to area attractions, and check the local newspaper for free events. Some public libraries offer free tickets to museums and events, too. Be sure to stay at a place that offers free breakfast and bring your own snacks to avoid hitting up the vending machine.
A great vacation is all about relaxation. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to do that. Just turn off the phone and the gadgets and enjoy some time by the pool with the people you care about. You’ll return to work with a new attitude and still have money in your wallet.
There are plenty of ways to travel in late winter or early spring without spending a fortune. It’s a great time of the year to travel, as it’s often considered to be off-peak at most tourist destinations; therefore, most tourist attractions and hotels offer cheaper rates.
To further increase your savings, start tracking your airfare now by signing up at a travel aggregator website, such as BookingBuddy. This way, you can receive regular pricing updates via email. Even if you don’t have a lot of time before your trip, this can still be beneficial, as many airlines feature short-term discounts on travel.
To save even more, consider traveling on a Tuesday or a Wednesday, since this is when airfare is generally cheapest. And only pack what you absolutely need to cut down on baggage fees.
Before visiting your destination city, sign up for a daily deal website such as Groupon – you just might find some discount vouchers for local restaurants or tourist activities for as much as 70% off.
Want to chat more about ways to save on wintertime trips? Join us in the H&R Block Community.