Family budgets are tight, but take heart: Florida is filled with getaways that won’t break your budget. Here are some tips from a former flight attendant, frequent traveler and Florida resident and how to discover and cash in on travel deals, discounts and delights throughout the state.
Cutting the Cost of Getting Here
Flexibility and perseverance are keys to uncovering travel deals. Online agencies, such as Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity, represent major airlines and are a good first stop for comparing flight options and fares. But don’t be too quick to click without doing more homework. Cross reference fares between agencies and compare them with ticket prices and web-only specials at individual airline web sites. Then check flights from alternative airports, where fares can differ significantly. Take advantage of frequent-flyer programs, check airline web sites for deals daily, and subscribe to email hot lists for last-minute bargains.
If you’re driving, Florida’s interstate and intrastate highway system provides efficient traffic flow. Check out our maps page for an interactive map of attractions and lodging throughout the state; it’s also a great way to find deals on attractions to visit along the way to your destination. To find the cheapest places to fill the tank in Florida, visit www.floridastategasprices.com.
Getting the Best Rates on Lodging
It typically costs more to stay in the center of the action at major attractions, so you can score significant savings at hotels a few miles away (ask about free shuttle availability and public transportation). Compare rates at internationally recognized brand resorts, locally owned hotels and bed–and-breakfast inns, and be sure to consider the value of amenities, such as complimentary breakfasts, resort credits and free kids clubs, and factor in the extra charges, such as parking fees, resort fees, surcharges and taxes.
If you’re traveling with a group, share the cost of a vacation home rental and enjoy extra space, convenience and privacy, or get close to nature with low-cost cabin camping at Florida State Parks (www.floridastateparks.org).
Hotels and vacation rental companies often guarantee best rates via online reservations; however, it also pays to call and ask about local and last-minute promotions. Look for offers such as “stay three nights and get the fourth night free.”
Membership in AAA, AARP and corporate or military discounts almost always earns lodging discounts. Take a look at exclusive Florida promotions from credit card providers such as American Express Travel, and search for hundreds of hotel Hot Deals here.
Saving on Sightseeing & Shopping
When you’re planning your trip, ask about attraction discounts for seniors, military, firefighters, EMS, law enforcement and Florida residents. Many tours and attractions provide discounts for online advance-ticket purchases. For example, the Go Miami Card and Go Orlando Card let you save up to 50 percent on regional attractions and provide shopping and dining discounts.
Bid on fun with Florida Vacation Auction. A recent bid for four passes to Miami Children’s Museum (value $40) was $10.00. Not into bidding? Buy direct and save up to 30 percent off retail pricing.
On your way in the state, stop at one of the five Official Florida Welcome Centers – located on I-10, US 231, I-75 and I-95, plus one in the State Capitol in Tallahassee – for a bounty of sightseeing brochures, discount coupons and friendly advice.
Once you’re at your destination, reduce constant pleas for expensive treats by giving young travelers a vacation shopping allowance. Then go on a quest for bargains at local flea markets and outlet malls, such as Prime Outlets in Ellenton, Naples, Florida City, Orlando and St. Augustine. Shop local discount stores for souvenirs, and beachcomb for beautiful seashells (this last one’s free!).
Feeding the Family for Less
Travel meals can cost more than transportation and lodging. If you’re staying at a vacation rental home/condo or suite-style hotel with kitchen, visit a local grocery store and stock the fridge. Tuck snack bars, fruit and water in a backpack for sightseeing snack attacks.
You can avoid restaurant price shock by viewing menus online in advance. Then check local newspapers for “early bird,” “two-for-one” and “kids-eat-free” specials and clip coupons for freebies such as appetizers and desserts. And try making lunch the big meal of the day – lunch menus offer slightly smaller portions and up to 30 percent lower prices.
You also can pre-purchase $25 dining certificates for $10 or less at 654 Florida eateries at www.restaurant.com. View a list of travelers’ favorite restaurants and earn points toward free dining by making reservations at www.opentable.com.
Timing Is Everything
Saving money on family travel revolves around timing. Just before or after high season, which is December through April, you can score savings of 30 percent to 50 percent on Florida stays.
South Florida rates peak during winter months and drop in the summer. Conversely, Northwest Florida rates are highest during the summer and bargains abound from early September to early March. Timing also impacts airfares – booking a flight a few days earlier or later may reduce ticket cost by 25 percent or more.
The longer it takes to get to your destination, the less time you have to enjoy it. Booking airfare and a rental car as a package sometimes costs less and saves travel time. Plus, having wheels allows you to enjoy nearby day trips at your own pace. For example, if you fly to Orlando and rent a car, it’s a little over an hour to east coast beaches and Kennedy Space Center and just over two hours to the west coast beaches.
While the Internet puts travel planning and price comparisons at your fingertips, the amount of information is daunting. A general search of “Florida vacations” on Google yields more than 1 million responses. Save time and frustration by learning more about hotels, attractions, Hot Deals and auctions and getting advice from Florida Insiders at VISITFLORIDA.com.