With just about six weeks to go until Labor Day, you may be scurrying to find last-minute summer travel deals. As many bargain hunters can tell you (and that includes those of us at Cheapism), booking shortly before your intended departure can mean big savings. Here are six tips for landing a last-minute bargain on summer travel:
All-inclusive attraction passes.
Want to tour a major city? Major attractions cost big bucks. But all-inclusive passes such as Smart Destinations and CityPASS can save you some of those bucks.
Smart Destinations is available in New York, Chicago, San Diego, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, Oahu, and Orlando, for a total of more than 450 attractions. The all-inclusive pass offers up to 55 percent off gate prices at big-name sites and lets you jump the line at many locations. For most cities where Smart Destinations is available you can choose between one- and seven-day passes. With the New York Explorer Pass you have the option of buying a card for three, five, seven, and ten attractions. With Go Select passes, you customize your own trip.
CityPASS provides sightseeing savings up to 50 percent in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Hollywood, Houston, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Southern California, and Toronto. In some spots you'll be able to bypass the lines, as well. CityPASS is valid for up to nine days except in southern California, where you're covered for14 days.
Take a cruise.
Believe it or not, cruises are a real last-minute summer travel deal. Cruise lines significantly lower the per person rate about a month before departure if beds still must be filled. How low do prices go? According to Parenting.com, it's not uncommon for a nightly rate to be $100 a person. For last-minute summer travel deals on cruises, visit Cruise Direct, JetBlue Cruises, and Cruise Critic.
Check your club membership and credit cards. Some last-minute summer travel deals might be lurking right in your wallet. AAA and AARP members can take advantage of discounts on car and truck rentals, hotels and resorts, air and rail tickets, cruises and tours, theme parks, and vacation packages.
Your rewards credit card may offer some travel perks, too, even if you're on a basic plan. For example, spend $500 within the first three months of using the Chase Sapphire Card and earn 10,000 points (the equivalent of $100) that can go toward (almost) anything, including travel; earn double points when dining at restaurants. With an American Express card you earn Membership Rewards Points that can be used toward a flight, cruise, or vacation package deal, and, when booking with select partners, qualify for such amenities as guaranteed adjoining rooms, up to $275 in credit to use aboard a cruise, and $250 in savings on child travel costs.
If you hope to reap greater rewards, many credit card companies have partnerships with airlines, hotels, resorts, and cruise lines that provide access to even more travel perks. For instance, Chase offers the United MileagePlus Explorer Card, with no fee the first year and $95 annually thereafter. One cardholder benefit: You and another person on the same reservation can check your first bags free on United Airlines' flights.
Make it a packaged deal.
When you have no time to spare, land your flight, hotel, car rental -- and even some activities -- all at once. Some online travel agencies to visit include Travel Zoo, Last Minute Travel, Last Minute, Priceline, Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity.
Road trip to a national park.
Visit a nearby national park, a relatively inexpensive, entertaining last-minute summer travel idea for all ages. There is always some new corner of the park to explore and always tactics for making the visit even cheaper. For example, you can plan a trip for days when park entrance fees are waived; upcoming days in 2013 include August 25 (the National Park Service's birthday) and September 28 (National Public Lands Day). The best news for would-be visitors on tight budgets: A good chunk of the national parks -- 268 out of 401 (including monuments, recreation areas, historic sites, etc.) -- don't charge entrance fees anytime during the year.
Use your smartphone.
Several free travel apps for iPhones, iPads, and Androids can help you score a last-minute summer travel deal. As the saying goes, whatever you're looking for, there's an app for that. Book a last-minute room on Hotel Tonight. Cut costs on a road trip with Gasbuddy. Snag a last-minute flight with Kayak. Use Gateguru 3.0 when hungry and stuck at the airport. Avoid looking like a tourist with Scoutmob. Of course, all these apps can save you time and money.