Money-Saving Winter Travel Tips

Our 10 favorite money-saving tips for winter travel.

With cold weather upon us, winter vacation planning has kicked into high gear. Travelers concerned that impending holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and President's Day weekend will hike up the costs of their vacation may have reason to worry -- prices are steepest during the days surrounding each. Still, there are deals to be found, as well as tips and tricks that can bring big deals and rewards to savvy travelers. Read on to discover our 10 favorite money-saving tips for winter travel.

1. Book Package Deals

Many winter resorts offer stay-and-ski package deals with combined lodging and lift ticket discounts that can be a valuable money-saving prospect for travelers. Also search travel websites, like Expedia or Travelocity, which offer flight and lodging packages; companies that package flights and hotels together tend to have better powers of negotiation based on their volume of sales and great discounts as a result. Deals typically include free nights, free lift tickets, or discounts on food and drinks. When evaluating different packages, look for ones that offer unique value added options, like spa treatments or kids-stay-free deals, in addition to standards like room and airfare discounts.

2. Choose a Vacation Rental

Location is everything, and resorts at the foot of the mountain typically have sky-high prices. If you're willing to stay farther afield, an excellent way to save big money on accommodations is to book a vacation rental, which can typically sleep more people and is perfect for large families or multiple families splitting costs. Check out vacation rental sites like VRBO, (Vacation Rentals By Owner) and to see what deals are available where you're traveling.

3. Look for Lift Ticket Discounts

Before you whip out your wallet and pay premium prices for your lift ticket, do a bit of homework. Plenty of discount tickets are available from numerous resorts, even during peak season. If you booked a lodging package that doesn't include lift tickets, go to your resort's website to see what types of online ticket deals they offer. Some resorts have discounts for booking online, or offer special promotions at different points in the season. It's also wise to find the ski association website for the state you plan to visit; these sites often offer discounts to many resorts as well. Start your research in early fall; many offerings are only available through November. If you haven't given yourself enough time to find a discount, call your resort or nearby grocery stores and ask if they know of any local retailers that offer discounts for purchasing passes offsite at their stores. The savings aren't huge, but can be up to $10 off per ticket.

4. Consider Baggage Fees

If you're plotting a ski vacation and plan to bring your own equipment, baggage fees can seriously add up for a family of 4 or more. Seek out an air carrier like Southwest that does not charge baggage fees, or find one that allows the first checked bag to be free, like Jet Blue. Both airlines fly into Denver International Airport, a major hub for ski destinations like Aspen.

5. Rent Your Gear

If you're flying to your destination and do not have the option to book an airline without baggage fees, consider leaving the skis and snowboards at home and renting your gear upon arrival. Before making any hasty decisions about what to pack, check your airline's fees for checking ski or snowboard gear, and compare it to the cost of renting equipment at your resort for the duration of your trip.

6. Sign Up for Half-Day Ski Lessons

Ski lessons, while a necessity for newbies, can become a real luxury when cost is calculated. Full-day lessons for adults can range from $100 for group lessons to nearly $500 for private lessons per day. Consider booking a half-day lesson, which can be significantly cheaper and may be all the schooling you need to hit a beginner's slope. Call your resort to discuss in detail their lesson options before making a decision.

7. Save Money on Meals

The cost of feeding a vacationing family 3 meals a day strikes fear into the hearts of the most steadfast travelers -- but being smart about where you eat can save you a bundle. When booking your accommodation, look for a vacation rental property with a kitchen that will allow you to cook your own meals and pack lunches to bring to the slopes, or find a resort room that has a small kitchenette. Even if your resort doesn't offer kitchenettes, ask for a room with a microwave and refrigerator. Bringing your own nonperishable snacks and drinks can save your wallet as well -- snacking can add up to big bucks for hungry skiers. Finally, check the lobby of your resort. Many will feature displays of coupons and brochures from local businesses, including restaurants.

8. Book Early, Travel Early (or Late!)

Don't wait to the last minute to book your winter vacation, whether it's to a ski destination or a warm weather hub, like Mexico. This is particularly important to do if you plan to travel around Thanksgiving or Christmas, when prices are highest and flights and accommodations most crowded. Resorts and flights tend to book up well in advance, and as they do, prices rise. Also, try to travel at the beginning or end of the season, when prices still haven't hit their peak. Oftentimes weather conditions are still good; research your destination's prices by week to discover when the cheapest travel times are.

9. Pick the Right Weeks to Travel

Think outside the box as you plan your winter vacation. With most folks traveling during holiday weeks and weekends, like Christmas, President's Day and Valentine's Day, prices during those times are steep. That said, travel (including corporate) plummets in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, making it an "off-season" of sorts, with lower. Aim to book your trip during the first 3 weeks in December; it's the cheapest time of year to travel.

10. Don't Forget Europe

Think a romantic European vacation is well out of your budget? Not so. During the winter, roundtrip flights to Europe can be as much as 20% cheaper than during summer months, when hordes of travelers descend on popular European cities like Paris, London and Rome. In winter these same cities can be blissfully quiet, with short or no lines to enter major attractions like the Louvre or St. Peter's Basilica. Other European destinations reach their apex in winter, like the Swiss or Italian Alps; so you might also consider an overseas ski vacation to experience some of the world's finest peaks, even if it means a steeper price.

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