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'There are bargains out there' as summer travel season heats up

Gas prices and airfares are down, while hotel rates are climbing. Here's how to snag deals at home and abroad.

Hot fun in the summertime.

From backpackers to beachcombers and globe-trotters, about half of adult travelers expect to travel more this summer than last, according to a recent survey.

“Travel demand isn’t slowing down,” Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, told Yahoo Finance. “It will be busy throughout the summer.”

Demand for vacations to Europe, in particular, is sizzling hot, making for crowded cities and expensive hotel rooms. Room rates are up around 10% for summer travel to Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Dublin, London, Paris, and Stockholm.

“There are bargains out there if you can be flexible with your travel dates and book ASAP,” Hayley Berg, lead economist at travel booking app Hopper, told Yahoo Finance. “If you haven’t booked summer plans yet, you’ll want to do so as soon as possible. Now is the sweet spot for getting a good deal.”

Read more: The best travel credit cards

During the Fourth of July week alone AAA projects 70.9 million Americans will hit the road, up 5% from last year. The bulk of those vacationers will be driving to their destination. Sweet news if you’re one of those road warriors: Gas prices are lower than last year when the national average was $3.58. Today's average price of gas in the US is $3.45 per gallon.

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Pump prices will likely continue to slide down even further as we approach Independence Day, according to the AAA report, and remain relatively stable until after Labor Day. One potential disruptor: Hurricane season could slam prices if a storm strikes Gulf Coast oil production and refining centers.

A record number of Americans — 5.7 million — will also be leaving on a jet plane over the July holiday, per AAA. And fares are lower than last summer. Domestic airfare for the Fourth of July weekend is down 18% from last year, averaging $263 per ticket, according to Hopper’s new report.

“Add jumping on a plane as a national Fourth of July pastime, right next to grilling in the backyard," Melanie Fish, travel expert at Expedia, told Yahoo Finance." The Saturday before the holiday kicks off the busiest air travel week of the summer."

But that’s just a slice of the action. This summer more than 57,000 flights are scheduled to take off from US airports to bring an estimated 13 million American travelers to destinations across Europe.

Read more: The best airline credit cards

Paris is among the most popular international destinations — mostly due to the Paris Olympics in July. But Japan wears the crown as a top year-round destination, according to Expedia research. Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto are the fastest-growing cities for summer travel. "Africa is the #1 trending region at Kayak," Jake Bouvrie, vice president of data science and chief economist, said.

The most popular destinations are "domestic cities like NYC and Vegas, but we’re also seeing double-digit spikes for Amsterdam and Tokyo," Fish said.

colorful fireworks on black background
During the Fourth of July week alone AAA projects 70.9 million Americans will hit the road, up 5% from last year. (Getty Creative) (sarayut Thaneerat via Getty Images)

I checked in with several travel insiders about the best ways to save on summer travel, and the mood was decidedly upbeat.

All of them noted that they expect a surge in Americans traveling over the next two months, and they agree that many will likely find it cheaper than a year ago for scores of destinations.

1. Be flexible

If you're itching to get away for the Fourth of July holiday, you’ll still find the best last-minute airfare if you book a trip starting on Thursday, July 4, and returning Tuesday of the following week, Berg said.

“This will save travelers an average of 32% or about $121 per ticket compared to the more popular Wednesday to Sunday trip,” she said.

To be honest, if you haven’t nailed down plans for the Fourth of July, cool your heels. Holidays like the Fourth and Labor Day are generally the most expensive summer dates.

“Flexible travelers can save 15% off their nightly hotel rate, for example, by staying over less expensive weeks or weekends this summer,” Berg said. “Right now, mid-August offers the most deals for flexible travelers.”

That’s also the best time to save on international airfares.

2. Europe on sale

From the US, many airfares to European destinations are down 37% for July and August from 2023, according to Hopper data. Fares to Canada and the Caribbean are under $500 per round-trip ticket, while jaunts to Europe are averaging around $900 per round-trip ticket, Berg said. The most-booked destinations on Hopper include London, Paris, Rome, Dublin, and Barcelona.

Paris, Ile de France, France
Paris is among the most popular international destinations— mostly due to the Paris Olympics in July. (Getty Creative) (Matteo Colombo via Getty Images)

That said, if you opt to travel to Europe in September or early October, you can score deeper savings, roughly 23% or about $195 off round-trip airfare.

3. Stay away from the crowds

The most affordable deals are outside the big European cities.

“Explore off-the-beaten-track locations,” Wendy Marley, a AAA travel adviser, told Yahoo Finance. “There are some great values that can be found in destinations such as Madeira and the Azores. You not only get that great European culture but also a lush tropical vacation spot as well.”

4. Be aware of booking times

Domestic travelers should generally book two to three months in advance for the best prices and availability. For international travelers, Berg recommends booking three to five months ahead.

The worst time to book a flight is less than a week out for domestic travel or more than 90 days out for international travel — travelers paid 15% more than average during these time frames, per Expedia data.

And the standard advice for fliers remains. “Travelers who fly in the middle of the week — Tuesday or Wednesday — can save an average of 18% or $51 per ticket on domestic airfare,” Berg said.

5. Shop shoulder season deals

Fares cool considerably in the fall shoulders season, particularly to Europe, in September. You can save nearly a third off peak summer prices by traveling in September versus peak summer months, according to Berg.

6. Stay alert for the best fares

If you know where you’d like to take off to, set an airfare price tracker. You’ll get pinged whenever fares drop. Each of the major travel apps, such as Hopper, Kayak, and Skyscanner, offers fare tracking, as does Google Flights.

Run a search on Kayak’s “best time to travel” tool to get an idea of when you might land the best deals. For instance, I typed in Washington, D.C., to Geneva for seven days and it suggested taking my trip in October.

“We recommend going to Geneva in October as airfare is reasonable ($617), the weather is cool at 51°F, and it is less crowded than usual with fewer tourists around,” the site reported.

7. Unleash those loyalty points

“Leverage all of your rewards points, including frequent flier miles, loyalty hotel, and credit card points,” Marley said.

A reward credit card that offers no foreign transaction fees, for instance, is a must if you’re heading out of the country. When making a purchase, ask for it to be charged in the local currency for the best exchange rate.

Read more: The best rewards credit cards

A young man holds a baguette and cheese travels with his backpack through the streets of Paris France and looks at the fresh fruit during the autumn time. stock - photo
Prepare yourself for a weaker dollar abroad. (Getty Creative) (Nathan Bilow via Getty Images)

8. Prepare yourself for a slightly weaker dollar abroad

The dollar was worth around 93 euro cents as of June 22, down from last October’s .95 euros, according to currency conversion specialists Wise. For those of you traveling to London and the UK, a $1 will net you 79p — a dip from the October's nearly 83p.

Entrance fees to places like the Eiffel Tower have soared. This month, an adult ticket to ride to the top of the tower will cost roughly $38, a 20% leap from last summer.

C’est la vie.

Kerry Hannon is a Senior Columnist at Yahoo Finance. She is a career and retirement strategist, and the author of 14 books, including "In Control at 50+: How to Succeed in The New World of Work" and "Never Too Old To Get Rich." Follow her on X @kerryhannon.

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