Experts Share Tops Tips To Save On Family Vacations in 2024

A family swimming in a pool together on vacation.

Airfare prices in December 2023 were down 9.4% compared to the same month in 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index. Unfortunately, other vacation expenses, like hotels, are still around 16% higher compared to pre-pandemic times.

As the overall cost of a family vacation increases, discounts and ways to save are top of mind in 2024. Pricier family destinations like Walt Disney World compound the desire to seek cheaper hotels, food, and transportation options.

Travel experts point out several ways to save on travel, and many of their tactics don't involve a single promotion or sale price. It all comes down to strategizing, mindful spending, and skepticism of would-be discounts.

Strategize Hotels

Hotel accommodations are often the most significant expense of a vacation. If a family finds ways to save in this category, it frees up the budget elsewhere to spend more on food and souvenirs or offers more flexibility for airfare. 

On that note, saving on hotels starts with flexibility. Lindsay Brookshier, content director of Mickey Visit, advises that families can save a lot when they travel on less popular days. “Though it may be easier for some to visit over a school holiday, traveling during quieter times throughout the year can save you money on flights, hotels, and even theme park tickets. You’ll also enjoy the benefit of lower crowds.”

Traveling in the off-season or on weekdays yields benefits beyond just saving on hotel rates.

Staying strategic about hotel accommodations also involves alternative ways of paying for hotels aside from directly on the hotel website and with cash. Regarding popular family destinations like Walt Disney World, experts advise families to look outside Disney’s core resort options, which often come with an upcharge.

Alex Caspero, freelance travel and food writer at Delish Knowledge, shares that off-property hotels and rewards points are the way for those looking to save. Caspero adds, “Many non-Disney hotels near the parks have shuttles to and from, which cuts down on transportation costs. Make sure to check with your hotel about free airport shuttles before you arrive as well — many of them will pick you up and drop you off for a small fee, if not for free.”

Families like Disney World’s hotels for the convenience and proximity to the parks, but they do not have to sacrifice much by looking just beyond Disney’s property line.

As Planner at Heart founder Monica Fish notes, timeshare rentals are another secret weapon families can use on vacation. She notes major hotel chains such as Hilton and Marriott have multiple timeshare properties, and even Disney themselves have their own Vacation Club where DVC members can rent out their points. She adds, “Renting a room from a timeshare owner who is not using theirs means saving 50 to 75% off the resort's direct price. It has never been easier to find a deal and book it securely.”

Be Wary of Wasteful Spending

Saving on vacations extends beyond scoring a good deal on airfare or hotel accommodations. If not careful, travelers blow budgets after they arrive at their destination on things like food and transportation. Mindful spending is the key, as experts attest.

Travel journalist Megan duBois urges families to “think about your meal times, no matter where you're traveling.” Packing even a little bit of food for the day for adults and kids will help avoid unnecessary snack purchases, which add up over a trip.

The kinds of snacks brought along for the day matter, too, says Caspero. As a dietician, she recommends families pack healthy snacks “that are a good source of both protein and fiber for helping with satiety – string cheese and an apple, bags of popcorn, Harvest Snaps and Hippeas, applesauce and yogurt pouches and Skout organic bars are my go-to picks.”

Beyond snacks, there are other ways to reduce the amount of money spent on food while on vacation. duBois uses grocery delivery, so breakfast takes place in the hotel room and prioritizes lunch, often cheaper than dinner, as the big meal for the day.

Scott McConkey, nationally syndicated travel writer and founder of Miles with McConkey, recalls, “We discovered that we wasted a lot of money on food during vacations. Our kids typically ate half of their meals. We often felt miserable upon eating a large meal. Ordering soda and alcoholic drinks got expensive. So, we started sharing meals when it made sense and mostly drank water. It saved money, and we felt better.” 

At Disney theme parks specifically, McConkey notes adults can order kids' meals to reduce both costs and portion sizes. Thanks to mobile ordering at Disney World and Disneyland, there’s no shame in selecting a kids’ meal to save a few dollars.

Don’t Jump on Every Discount

Discounts and limited-time promotions sound like a great way to save money on a vacation. Many of those discounts, however, hide the fact that families will wind up spending more than they were planning. Experts warn to be alert when shopping for bargains, as Sarah Gilliland, founder of On The Road With Sarah and editor at Wealth of Geeks, explains. She says, “A discount is not truly a discount because you are paying full price for another part of your vacation.”

Take, for example, Disney World’s latest discount, the free dining promotion, where families can sign up for a meal plan at no extra cost – effectively making food totally free. Free food sounds enticing, but as Gilliland shares, the promotion is somewhat misleading with savings “because the hotel and tickets are not discounted.” While Disney’s Dining Plan works for some travelers thanks to its convenience, it does not for others. For even more considerable savings, especially on long vacations, Gilliland recommends families eat a few meals off Disney property. 

If saving money is the ultimate goal, using the tips these experts shared will better keep a vacation budget in check.   

This article was produced by Media Decision and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.