It’s tough to trim the cost of an Orlando vacation. You can bring Pop Tarts for breakfast, coupon books to shave ticket costs, and locks to keep kids out of a hotel’s overpriced mini-bar, but that probably saves 1 percent of the overall vacation budget. To make a massive dent, you have four major areas of concentration: hotel rooms, airfare, car rentals, and souvenirs. (If driving, the price of gas is the price of gas. Big savings only come from a hotel deal or buying cheap trinkets.)
This isn’t easy. If you want easy, book a tour. But you can buy a lot of souvenirs if you save $700 on airline tickets, room reservations, and rental cars. If it takes six hours of work to snag a deal, consider it a second job that pays $116.66 per hour.
Check out FAQOrlando.com’s travel articles for more advice – there are a number of tricks – but here are the top four tactics for saving money, and the easiest way (though not only) to get a good deal:
Top tactic: Sign up for airfare price alerts through one of the major online websites, such as Travelocity, Expedia, or Orbitz.
It only takes one carrier to announce a fare sale before the others follow suit. The airline tech guys then jump onto their web server and shave off two to 10 seats (or none) per flight that qualify for this magical rate; when those seats are filled, the fare sale becomes philosophical rather than pragmatic. “Yes, we have a special,” is not the same as “Yes, we still have seats at that price.”
If a good price and available seats open up, book immediately.
Top tactic: Negotiate and call around.
Ever look behind the hotel door to see the rack rate for your room? (“Rack rate” is hotel-speak for “The absolute top dollar we ever hope to get, and we don’t expect it unless the Super Bowl comes to town.”) It’s usually shocking, like $200 for a Motel 6. If you called the hotel and offered to pay rack rate, they’d be happy to take it, but that means every room price quote is some kind of discount, special, or promotion. In other words, a computer or person pulls every per-night rate out of their tuskus.
Don’t try to make sense out of hotel pricing – just go with it. Quotes will come fast and furious, and the price difference between two vendors could be as much as $100 per night – same hotel, same room category. Check with a number of trustworthy online booking websites; check with the hotel itself; check for discounts with any affiliation you’ve got – AARP, AAA, your credit card, your insurance agent, etc. If you get a decent quote, write down the name of the reservationist or print the webpage. Wheel and deal and book the best rate you can find, which many times will be through the hotel itself (not the hotel chain) since reservationists have leeway when quoting a price. Always ask “What’s the absolute cheapest room you’ve got, and what group qualifies for that rate?” If you find a great deal, book immediately.
But you’re not done yet. Check room rates again two weeks before departure, even if you found a decent deal. Revisit the websites, reservationists, everyone. Hotel cancellation penalties don’t usually kick in until a few days before arrival (but check) so you can cancel your first reservation if you book another. Orlando hoteliers know that rooms not reserved two weeks before your arrival probably won’t be rented at all, yet they still have fixed costs for maids and utilities. That’s an incentive to offer a bargain rate that helps cover costs. It’s not uncommon to find a great deal on the hotel you already booked.
Top tactic: Negotiate and call around.
Go back to the hotel section, substitute the word “hotel” with “rental car,” and start over again.
Top tactic: Avoid binge purchases – shop at discounted outlets first.
In the theme parks, rides unload in the middle of stores. Just saw Pooh? You and your please-buy-me kids immediately wander past a plethora of toys from The Hundred Acre Woods. Impressed with the Terminator attraction? You and your please-buy-me kids get dumped in front of action figures, shirts, etc. Before arrival, make it a family rule that you will buy nothing in a park shop immediately after a ride. If they stumble upon the one souvenir they can’t get out of their head, it’s worth a trip back.
For bargain shopping, start early. Orlando has gobs of discount outlets. For cheaper Disney merchandise, overstocks, and factory seconds, start at The Character Warehouse at Prime Outlets (4951 International Dr., Orlando: 407-352-9600). It doesn’t have the mind-boggling range of goods found within the parks, but by stocking up on stuff for kids who don’t care – and relatives back home you don’t care about – you can easily shave a few hundred dollars off your souvenir budget. Click for more info on Prime Outlets, home of The Character Warehouse.
While in the theme parks, also check the back racks for sales, which are not always marked as clearly as they are in regular retail stores.
Still looking to trim costs? Here’s an article on Orlando discounts for admissions and meals: 12 Orlando vacation discounts