Summer travel deals on flights, hotels, car rental could elevate your next vacation, road trip

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone WLS logo
Thursday, May 27, 2021
How to find summer travel deals on flights, car rentals, more
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If you are thinking about booking that summer vacation the ABC 7 I-Team is digging into the deals and finding out what you should avoid.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- If you are thinking about booking that summer vacation the ABC 7 I-Team is digging into the deals and finding out what you should avoid.

Travel experts said it's going to be harder to find good prices as more people get vaccinated. The prices for hotels, rental cars and flights are going up.

"Experts are really expecting about a gradual but about 6% to 10% increase of prices," said travel agent Ja'Vonne Harley.

Look early for flights and set up email or text alerts so you can see when prices change, and don't forget to bundle.

"When you make your flight arrangements, you'll usually get a notification that says would you like to add hotel or would you like to add car rental, click those buttons and see what kind of bundled or package deals you can get," Harley explained.

Avoid the weeks around the July Fourth holiday.

"We're still seeing a lot of great deals pop up for travel in August," advised Scott Keyes of Scott's Cheap Flights.

If possible, start your trip planning by first checking on which destinations are cheap, before you decide where to go.

"Where are their cheap flights out of my home airport, what dates work for my schedule, and by setting price as the top priority rather than the last priority. That's how you get cheap flights," Keyes said.

Some of the best deals now?

"Out of Chicago down to Nashville for $99 round trip over to Fairbanks and Alaska for $282 round trip, even over to Dublin, Ireland out of O'Hare for $301 round trip," he said.

Keyes said other flight bargains can be found in Washington D.C., New York City, San Francisco, Hawaii, and Florida.

Harley says you can also look at alternative airports in the same areas to save. For example try Midway to Ft Lauderdale instead of O'Hare to Miami.

Don't forget to use miles which may have built up during the pandemic, and utilize those credit reward cards, which may offer perks.

"With the hotel, sometimes you get the third or fourth night free, maybe you'll get breakfast daily included when it otherwise isn't, you might get spa credits, you might get other dining credits," said Harley, who adds that destinations like Cancun, which have huge inventories of rooms, are offering hotel deals. More bargains can be found in large hotels in downtown business districts.

"I paid just over $100 a night to be able to stay in downtown Manhattan," said Keyes.

But you could pay more for vacation rental homes, in high demand during the pandemic and the costs for car rentals are surging. Keyes called it a "carpocalypse."

The reason for the shortage is that many rental companies sold off fleets of vehicles at the beginning of the pandemic, when demand was low.

"The absolute cheapest rate to rent a car in Maui right now is $373 per day. You're talking over $2,000 for a week," Keyes said.

You can:

  • Book early and search for off-airport locations
  • Look into car share services like Turo, where people rent out their own cars.
  • Check out dealerships which may rent cars
  • Fly somewhere where a car may not be needed

And remember, if you're strategic you can take advantage of the savings offered everywhere else.

"The airlines want butts in seats and the hotels want heads in beds," said Harley.

You can also save by using a travel agent; the vast majority work off of commission and they can help you hunt for packaged deals. If you're using a third party website, make sure to read return and exchange policies which may not be as good, as when you book direct.

If flying international bring your vaccination card. However, even if you're vaccinated you'll need to get a negative COVID-19 test before boarding a flight back to the US. Harley said Travel Insurance may help, if you end up being stuck, with a positive COVID-19 test.

Travel agent Ja'Vonne Harley says travel Insurance may help if you end up being stuck with a positive COVID-19 test.

How to navigate the "carpocalypse" from Scott's Cheap Flights

Costco Travel.

While there's no single place to book flights that's always cheapest, from my experience, there is a place that's almost always cheapest for car rentals: Costco Travel. You automatically have access if you're a Costco member, and it also includes extra perks like a free second driver. Best of all: reservations are free to cancel, so you can book a car today and if the price drops tomorrow, just cancel and rebook for a cheaper rate. (I do this with just about every trip, sometimes 3 or 4 times.)


This is a free service that monitors your car rental reservation and notifies you if the price drops. Unlike with airfare, most car rentals are free to cancel and rebook, so you can take advantage when there's a price drop. Autoslash makes it easy to know if/when that happens.


This is the Airbnb of car rentals. People put their own cars up for rent on Turo, and you can get everything from a small sedan to a Lamborghini. The huge quantity of cars available there keeps prices much lower.

Rent from dealerships.

Though not widely known, many car dealerships across the country have new cars they gladly rent out. Even better: the prices tend to be set-rate, rather than the inflated rates at rental agencies. For example, here's the rental pages for Toyota and Subaru dealerships.


In normal times, renting a car is cheaper than taking two or more carshare rides per day. But things are different during the Carpocalypse. If price is the main reason you preferred a car rental over rideshare (rather than, say, infant car seats), it's worth using a site like Uber's price estimator to see which would be cheaper for your trip.

Home improvement stores

Home Depot, Lowe's, and other home repair stores often have pickup trucks available for rent. These trucks tend to have set day rates, rather than inflated dynamic prices like at car rental agencies. Prices vary by location, starting at $89/day.

Moving trucks

Perhaps nothing symbolizes the Carpocalypse more than vacationers avoiding excessive car rental prices by renting U-Hauls (or other brands like Penske and Budget). Though of course seating is limited, for solo or couple travelers, it can be a cheaper (and memorable) option.

Car share services

Check what services might exist in your destination city-Hui, for example, operates only in Honolulu. Zipcar is the most widespread service, but does require a membership fee. Getaround is another car share service that, like Turo, uses people's own cars. If you won't need a car for every minute of your trip, these hourly rentals can be a good alternative to expensive daily or weekly rates, especially considering many car share rates include gas and insurance.