Fellow CPAs offer their budget tips for travel

If you need a vacation, there are many ways to cut costs.
By Cheryl Meyer

Alaska. Costa Rica. Italy. The Caribbean. Mexico. Ski slopes. Those are just a few of the destinations relished by CPAs, who stage their annual getaways either alone, with their spouse, or with friends and family.

"My favorite vacation involves adventure and relaxation," said Josh Weiss, CPA, vice president, finance, at Travel and Transport Inc., a travel management company in Omaha, Neb.

Laura Srsich, CPA, tax partner at Eide Bailly LLP in Denver and a scuba diving enthusiast, likes to go "anywhere I can dive," she said. "There is nothing quite like spending time 70 feet underwater to help you 'de-stress.' I am usually on a plane the day after the April 15 tax deadline."

Traveling isn't cheap, though, and costs can add up quickly. So we tapped Srsich, Weiss, and other globe-trotting CPAs for advice on how to cut vacation expenses. Here are their tips:

Plan ahead and consider package deals. You can often get the best discounts if you book early. If you wait too close to your travel dates, deals may still be available but they are generally not lower than if you had planned further in advance, Weiss advised. Also, to avoid going over your budget, consider booking a package that includes food, accommodations, and sometimes tours or expeditions. All-inclusive options "allow you to prepay your entire trip and budget upfront for meals and drinks," he said.

Avoid the high season. Travel during off-peak days, times, and seasons. This not only helps you save money, but avoid crowds as well. Flights and hotel rooms—even events and excursions—are all less expensive when off-peak, said Michael Foster, CPA, partner at Merki & Associates P.C., in Denton, Texas. "It definitely pays to be flexible with your travel schedule if you can."

Tap loyalty programs. Large hotel and rental car chains will alert you to discounts, specials, or points toward reduced travel costs, if you join their loyalty programs. Once you book accommodations, ask for deals, "such as free breakfast, a spa credit, a bottle of wine at the restaurant," said Adam Weissenberg, CPA, national managing partner and global leader of travel, hospitality, and leisure at Deloitte & Touche LLP, in Parsippany, N.J. Also, "Sign up for airline membership programs. Even if you don't fly a whole lot, you will be surprised at how the miles will build up," noted Craig Chilcote, CPA, managing partner of Anderson Kuiti & Asuma PLLC, in Duluth, Minn.

Review credit card specials. Credit card companies offer deals, "and sometimes they will give you an upgrade or some type of resort credit," Weissenberg said. Srsich uses her credit card points toward airfare whenever possible. And Stacy Sand, CPA, who runs her own firm in Miami Beach and Belle Harbor, N.Y., collects credit card points buying office items, and then uses those points to stay at higher-end hotels.

Tap membership associations. Some professional organizations offer membership discounts for hotel stays and other amenities. Chilcote is a member of the Minnesota Society of CPAs and receives discounts on tickets to in-state attractions, such as amusement park Valleyfair near Minneapolis, he said.

Book your accommodations directly. Travelers can often get better deals if they book directly versus using a third-party online site. "Often if you contact the airline, hotel, etc., directly, they will be able to provide you with the same, if not better, price," Foster said. "This will also make things easier should you need to change your schedule or cancel. When cruising, Srsich books excursions on her own rather than through the ship. This can lead to a better experience at a lower price. For example, when in Alaska, she booked her own whale-watching jaunt on a private boat. "We got back into some small coves and were right next to the whales—fabulous!" she said.

Use a travel agent. These seasoned pros have connections with establishments you may not even consider and can find deals that you probably wouldn't discover. Foster booked a four-person trip to Costa Rica and called an agent for help. "We were able to save money on hotels, transportation, and excursions by using the travel agent," he said. "Plus it made for a stress-free trip knowing that everything was planned and taken care of." Ask friends or family members for a travel agent referral, to ensure that person is looking out for your best interests.

Be flexible. You may be set on a certain hotel or destination, or even a certain room with a view, but be adaptable. "If you start your search with an open mind as to where you want to go, you can get a great deal somewhere you didn't even consider when starting your planning," Srsich said. Weiss does not "skimp" on his desired hotel or resort, but "will take a slightly less pleasing room location to save a little money," he said.

Consider vacation rentals. Travelers often book only hotels when on vacation. But many websites like Airbnb, HomeAway, or VRBO offer alternatives to hotels, lodges, or resorts.

Travel in a group, if possible. Some online booking sites will offer blocks of rooms at discounted rates. "A lot of expenses can be trimmed down by having a group of people to share the costs," Foster said. Sometimes resorts offer special amenities to groups. "When four of us are traveling together, we can often get the resort to include some extras, like bar credits or spa services," Srsich said.

Consider paying with cash instead of credit. Dinners, excursions, hotels, and souvenir shopping can add up fast on your credit card. Foster advocates creating a comfortable spending budget prior to departure, and taking that amount of cash with you. Store your cash in the hotel safe if you need to, and use that cash for meals and outings, trying not to go over budget. "If you can stick with your cash budget you will be very pleased when you get home and realize the credit card bill has not skyrocketed," he said. "We tend to spend less when handing over actual currency than when swiping a debit or credit card."

Cheryl Meyer is a California-based freelance writer. To comment on this article, contact Chris Baysden, senior manager of newsletters at the AICPA.

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