Looking to escape? 10 cost-saving travel tips for frugal Minnesotans
Travel presents a dilemma in 2022. Most of us long for far-flung adventures after close-knit quarantine. But that pent-up demand has been met by jacked-up prices for almost everything, especially gas. Airlines, airports, hotels, and car rental companies are often understaffed, undersupplied and overbooked.
“Everything is just like that weird right now,” sums up Linda Snyder, vice president of travel agency AAA Minneapolis. “But it’s not impossible.”
A little extra research, planning and — especially important now — pivoting your travel plans can go a long way. Here are tips from Snyder and other Twin Cities travel experts on creating an affordable vacation.
Stay in Minnesota. “Obviously, we think that’s a smart option at all times, but especially now,” said Amy Barrett, Explore Minnesota’s communications manager. As airfare and gas prices rise, Barrett’s team highlights itineraries for road trips on a tank of gas at exploreminnesota.com. They also recommend options outside of the popular North Shore, where rooms are hard to come by. Other options are even cheaper: “We have a lot of campgrounds, hiking trails and paved bike trails,” he says. “You can see so much of our beautiful state for free or very cheap.”
Start with your fare. “Before you book anything else or ask for certain days off from work, always check the airfare first, because right now you really don’t know what you’re going to get,” advises the website’s Kyle Potter and newsletter based in Minneapolis. ThriftyTraveler.com. He strongly recommends the Google Flights search engine for finding good travel dates, where flights one day or week can be $200-$300 cheaper than another. “That could put some people on the budget even before they get there, especially families.”
Avoid peak travel times. Summer is over, but the weekends and a few busy weeks can be costly in the fall and winter. “MEA week [Oct. 20-24 in 2022] is a big thing to avoid in Minnesota if you don’t have kids in school,” said Snyder, who also cautioned that business travel around conventions can drive up prices. “Late October and first part of November is a good window,” he added, alone. Destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean. Flying midweek is also a great way to save — and the same is true when not flying. Speaking of in-demand resorts on Minnesota’s North Shore, Barrett says, “If you can go Sunday through Thursday, you can still find a good deal.”
Vacation rentals now more than ever. Aside from the fact that you’re often paying less than many hotel chains, there’s another big reason to look for privately owned homes or apartments with favorable reviews on Airbnb, VRBO and other rental sites: The dining has also become more expensive. “If you’re not a foodie and don’t mind going out to eat a lot, think about how much money you could save by getting a place with a kitchen where you can cook for yourself,” Snyder says. Vacation rentals often make sense for larger families or groups in multiple hotel rooms — as long as everyone gets along.
Europe is a (relatively) good deal. With the euro falling to roughly the same value as the US dollar (around a 12% drop), your money can go further across the Atlantic. “A nice dinner in Paris today can cost you $70 US instead of $100, which adds up over a week,” Potter said. Some travelers to the US are still worried about the COVID restrictions, but things are wide open, even at the time of publication.
Stay off the beaten path. “Instead of Italy or Ireland, maybe look to Portugal or Switzerland for better airfare,” Snyder said. Potter singled out South Africa and Iceland as good travel deals in recent months. For destinations on this continent, he suggests looking anywhere on budget airlines like Sun Country, Spirit, Frontier and now Allegiant fly. “Even if you never fly one of those airlines, they’re undercutting other airlines’ prices,” Potter said.
Use those miles and points. Hey, at least your higher credit-card bills can add up to more air miles. Minneapolis-based frequent travelers John Eichten and Colleen O’Dell saved up enough miles on their Chase Sapphire Visa over a year to cover the cost of a ticket to London this past summer. “Essentially we saved $1,450,” raves John, who also cashed in Marriott Bonvoy points for a four-star hotel in the typically pricey area around the Tower of London.
Public transportation isn’t just for locals and Rick Steves. Car rental prices, too, have gone through the sunroof. Using trains and buses can save you $100-$200 per day, especially in Europe and big American cities. Eichten said of their trip to England: “Petrol is very expensive there, but the trains, buses and Tube prices haven’t changed.” For those who insist on their own wheels, Potter points to the universal search engine Auto Slash to find deals from rental companies, and to car-sharing sites/apps like Turo (think: Airbnb for in cars).
Get your feet in the sea: Far and away the best travel deals right now are on cruises. Cruise lines have been hit hard by COVID and are desperately trying to bring customers back with strong deals while also remaining strict with COVID testing and vaccine requirements. “Obviously, it should be based on your comfort level,” Snyder says, “but if you’ve ever thought about taking a cruise, now is the time.”
Plan ahead for next year. Yes. Although gas and other travel costs have declined slightly since mid-summer, travel experts agree that won’t be increasing anytime soon. Booking in advance will help you avoid any cost increases next summer. “Look for things that are fully returnable, or close to it,” advises Potter. It’s also a good tip for Minnesota destinations: “A lot of resorts are already filling up for next summer,” Barrett says.