By Quentin Fottrell
Recession-scarred families are still not ready to go out and splurge on vacation. In fact, many are still cutting back on their big summer holidays.
Some 63% of households making at least $50,000 a year are scaling back on their vacation plans this year, up from 51% in 2010, according to a new survey from Texas-based First Command Financial Services. And for the last three years – since the recession began — one quarter of respondents have been renting a house or condo instead of staying at a hotel and even combining a family visit with their summer vacations, while 46% of travelers said this is their second year of driving instead of flying. “These results reinforce the new frugality that has taken hold of the middle class,” said Scott Spiker, CEO of Texas-based First Command Financial Services, which carried out the survey. Over 80% of families are still taking vacations this year, but Spiker says, “Saving more, spending less and reducing debt are the guiding principles for middle-income families this summer.”
Why aren’t people taking the plunge? Analysts say it’s a combination of post-recession thriftiness and a desire for a hassle-free life. “The surprise is that this was supposed to be the summer that people finally loosened their purse strings,” says consumer advocate and travel writer Christopher Elliott, “but maybe they haven’t as much as we thought.” Travelers are also weary of airline hidden charges, flight delays and long airport security checks, says Kate Hanni, founder of the non-profit FlyersRights.org. “It’s no secret that air travel has become the 9th circle of hell from beginning to end,” she says. (In April, the Department of Transport introduced new rules to protect passengers, although not all consumer advocates believed they went far enough.)
Of the 1,000 consumers surveyed by First Command Financial Services, 24% are taking shorter vacations compared to 20% last year; 20% are taking “staycations” – taking time off work but staying home with the kids – up from just 14% in 2010; 22% are driving rather than flying, again up from 18% last year; 32% of those surveyed are staying with family or friends instead of checking into a hotel versus 26% in 2010. Other money-saving tactics include staying closer to home – 29% of respondents versus 24% in 2010 – with 19% of Americans choosing to cook their own food rather than dining out while on vacation versus 15% last year.
For travelers looking for ways to cut vacation costs, there are money-saving services worth checking out. BeFrugal.com has an online calculator to help travelers decide the cost/time trade-off of driving versus flying. Travel site Expedia.com and daily deal site Groupon.com recently joined forces to offer last-minute discounts on vacations. But – as with all daily deal offers – the clock is ticking. You need to act fast to get the deals: As their names suggest, daily deal sites typically only give consumers one day to choose a discount, and sometimes put a limit on the amount of people who can avail of those temporary deals.
Pay Dirt readers, are you willing to drive for an entire day rather than fly, and bunk in with family members in lieu of a hotel this summer?