By Spencer Spellman, on July 22, 2014

6 money-saving travel planning tips

It's prime-time travel season, which means one thing: Some of the highest prices and fares of the entire year are upon us RIGHT NOW. The situation only seems to get more expensive at the end of summer and beginning of fall, when people are looking to book their holiday trips.

Still, summer traveling doesn't have to be as expensive. Some small tweaks to your travel plans can save you as much as several hundred dollars per trip. Did you know, for example, that booking a hotel and flight together on can save you up to US$525 on an average vacation? Here are some of my other tips for saving money as you book your summer trip.

Fly on off-peak travel days.Just as there are peak and off-peak travel months and seasons during the year, there also are peak and off-peak travel days during the week. In general, Thursday, Friday, Sunday, and Monday are the busiest travel days; that means you are likely to see higher fares for flights on those days. Mid-week and Saturday flights frequently offer the best flight prices. The simple strategy of taking a vacation from Saturday to Wednesday instead of Thursday to Monday could save you a couple hundred dollars.

Book your travel far enough in advance.Booking travel in advance is risky business. Book too far in advance and you might miss out on the low fares airlines release about six weeks out. Book too close to your departure date, and you may be getting one of the last seats on the plane, which typically are more expensive. Our advice? For the very best deals, book your flight anywhere from six to twelve weeks in advance.

Travel in the off-season and shoulder seasons.Your chance at saving the most money when planning a trip is to travel during the low season. Flight, hotel, and car rental prices all typically are much lower during a destination's off-season. If you'd rather not travel when your destinations are empty, consider traveling during shoulder, or “secret,” season. This is the time between the high season and low season when prices are reasonable, crowds are thinner, and the weather is comfortable. For many destinations, the best times to save money are immediately following the winter holidays, and the weeks either prior to or following Labor Day and Memorial Day.

Exchange currency before you leave.Currency exchange rates can add up if you're withdrawing cash and/or exchanging money abroad—especially if you're doing it at the airport or hotels. Foreign banks charge exorbitant fees for these transactions, and airport kiosks and hotels often charge more than that. I recommend contacting your home bank about currency exchange a few weeks in advance of your trip. The advance notice is particularly important, since your bank may have to order the currency you need.

Be mindful of airline fees.Airlines charge fees for everything these days. Check a couple bags, select an exit-row seat at check-in, and you may be looking at an additional US$200. Many airlines are in the process of changing their fee policies; be sure to call ahead and ask about a la carte fees before you book (and factor the potential cost of these fees into the overall price for the trip).

Book your hotel and flight together.As I mentioned earlier in this post, bundling flight and hotel and car is a great way to save money. Customers who bundle their travel together on Expedia save on average US$525. In some of Expedia's bigger markets, such as Hawaii or Mexico, travelers can save up to US$1,000 by booking their hotel and car together. Start saving money today!

What are your top money-saving travel tips?