15 easy ways to save on summer travel

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Getting away — far, far away — from your daily grind is important. It's also expensive. Fortunately, there are ways to vacation on a dime. Or cut back a bit when your budget can handle going bigger. Here are 15 ways to save on travel.

1. Travel off-peak

Plan for a Monday through Thursday or Tuesday to Friday trip to skip the pricey weekend flights and room rates. Want even lower airfare? Take a red-eye.

2. Stay in the city less traveled

You can pretty much bet the big cities — Paris, New York City, Buenos Aires, etc. — are going to carry a high price tag. But Googling your desired destination and the term "second city" can turn up some nearby and/or up-and-coming places to visit for less.

3. Compare ... everywhere

Check out the flights, room rates or bundles on multiple travel search engines. It's common for prices to vary. Plus, don't assume you won't get a deal by booking directly with a hotel or airline. Hotels in particular are known to offer lower rates to people who book through their website or, better yet, phone their front desk.

4. Sign up for fare alerts

Services like Google Flights, AirfareWatchdog, SkyScanner or Hopper notify users by text, email or push notification when fares start dropping.

5. Leverage the 24-hour rule

The U.S. Department of Transportation actually requires airlines hold a reservation without payment or cancel one without imposing a fee for 24 hours, as long as you book one week or more ahead of departure and the flight is going to or from the U.S.

Airlines abide by this requirement in different ways, so you still want to read their cancellation policy before hitting "pay now." But if you have immediate buyer's remorse or get an all-time-low fare alert right after booking a flight, don't assume you can't cancel your reservation without paying a fee. For a full list of your flyers' rights, go here.

6. Consider travel insurance

Travel insurance can cover everything from nonrefundable plane tickets to accommodations in the event of a delayed flight and — importantly — healthcare coverage and evacuation, when you're traveling to a foreign country. (We can help you find travel insurance here.)

7. Think outside the hotel

Swanky resorts and traditional hotels are great, but don't limit your options, especially because, these days, you have a ton of them. Accommodation-sharing sites like Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO let travelers rent homes from owners, sometimes at a steal. (We've got a few hacks for using Airbnb here.) And don't sleep on local inns or bed-and-breakfasts. Their rates are sometimes lower ... and you usually get a free meal.

8. Factor in the free perks

Some hotels offer free Wi-Fi, bottled water or continental breakfast, while others charge for all those amenities ... and then some. Similarly, certain carriers might let you check a bag or have at least a free snack mid-flight. Be sure to ask what comes complimentary before making your reservation so you can determine what airline or accommodations offer the best value.

9. Avoid unnecessary fees

On the flip side, check for hidden hotel or airline fees, most notably, the dreaded resort fee, which can make a significant difference in the total cost of your stay. For more travel fees you should avoid at all costs, go here.

10. Consider a travel credit card

If you're good with plastic, a solid travel credit card can seriously pay off. For starters, cards in this category let you earn rewards on all or select travel purchases while skipping foreign transaction fees. Airline cards can net you a free checked bag, priority boarding or airport lounge access, while a hotel credit card entitles accountholders to on-the-house amenities or a free night each year. You can learn more about the best travel credit cards here.

11. Enroll in loyalty programs

Airline and hotel loyalty programs help you rack up miles or points you can put toward future purchases. It usually just takes an email address to sign up.

12. Pool or transfer rewards

Earn a free flight or hotel stay faster by pooling the miles or points you rack up through a loyalty program with your travel credit card rewards. Most issuers let you transfer points to their partner hotels or airlines. Just check the conversion rate. Some moves offer more bang for your earned bucks.

13. Tap AAA, AARP or other discounts

AAA and AARP often offer discounts on rental cars, hotels and cruises, as do wholesale stores like Costco or Sam's Club. Check to see what your memberships might entitle you to before finalizing your trip.

14. Clip coupons

Yes, basic smart spending rules apply to travel, especially when it comes to excursions, which you can often find for a steal on Groupon or Living Social. Ditto for discounts at local restaurants.

15. Wait for shoulder season

Everyone wants to vacation in summer or run away to an island in winter, but if you can shift your travel plans just one or two weeks ahead of or after peak season (commonly referred to as "shoulder season"), you can save on hotels, airfare and more. A simple Google search can help you pinpoint the window of opportunity in your destination of choice.

Can't afford to get away this year? Here's how to make the most of your staycation.

Image: AleksandarNakic