NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- As more Americans shun the "staycation" in favor of exotic beaches, mountains and international adventures, savvy travelers will have to go the extra mile to find deals on summer getaways. According to American Express, 75% of consumers will take a vacation this summer, up from 69% last year. Travelers are also planning to journey for longer periods -- 69% will enjoy a full week's vacation compared with 66% last year, and 32% will take a full two weeks off, up from 29% last year.
Yet even though more consumers are looking to see the world this summer, they still want to do it on a budget -- 91% of travelers say they're looking for ways to cut costs this summer, and 60% say they're willing to make trade-offs to afford those trips. We checked in with experts to find five ways to beat the crowds to the best deals.
1. Sign up for hotel loyalty programs and ask about special offers
Many people sign up for airline frequent-flier programs but forget about hotel loyalty programs, says Amy Graff, blogger for OnTheGoWithAmy.com and Best Western travel expert.
"Those points really do add up, especially if you're going on a longer trip," Graff says. "People start out thinking, 'I'm only going to be here for a night or two, no point signing up,' but it doesn't cost anything to sign up."
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Many hotels will have promotions this summer offering the third or fourth night of a stay free, says Bob Diener, co-founder and president of Getaroom.com
"People are taking longer vacations this summer, but oftentimes they can take advantage of a free night when they do that," Diener says. "When you're booking, just ask what kind of promotions they have going on."
2. Big cities may equal big savings
"Often we look at big cities and see big dollar signs, but if you can get a good price on a hotel, you're good to go. Flight prices are usually lower to large metropolitan areas, and many activities are free," Graff explains.
In larger cities, things such as parks, museums and concerts are often free. Some museums will feature free admission or half-price admission on certain days, so check before you go. Even food may be cheaper in cities due to the prevalence of food trucks and farmer's markets, Graff says.
"You'd be surprised how affordable some of the delicious hole-in-the-wall eateries can be in a large city," she says.
In July and August, Diener recommends checking out Paris and New York for great bargains.
"A lot of locals leave Paris in August -- that's their biggest vacation month. There are some great deals to be had there in late summer," he says.
In New York, business travel is lighter during the summer, which yields some great deals throughout the city.
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"On our site right now we probably have over 50 first-class hotels in New York around $200 a night," Diener says.
3. Book your hotel early, in dollars
Travelers who don't plan ahead will end up paying the highest price, Diener says.
"This summer is the busiest travel season since 2008. Demand is higher and we're seeing rate increases at hotels in the 4% to 5% range on average."
Travelers who have gotten into the habit of last-minute hotel bookings may be disappointed to find that there aren't as many cheap options to snap up this summer.
"Hotels have become much better at capacity control, and rooms move really fast. If you look during the day and see one room at a certain price, when you look again that night, prices could be 20% higher, or the room could be gone," he says.
If you're booking a hotel for a European stay, Diener recommends booking in dollars. If the exchange rate changes between your booking date and your check-in date, you could pay more than you'd planned -- or end up paying foreign transaction fees if your credit card charges them.
"You don't want to book a hotel expecting to pay $100 and then you get there and the exchange rate has changed and you're now paying $120."
4. Choose carefully when you fly and which airline you use
With flights, it's all about booking early, says Matthew Goldman, co-founder and CEO of Wallaby Financial
"If you wait, your choice will be limited and prices will be high. The days of arriving at the airport and picking what you want to do are over," he says.
Overall, Saturdays and Tuesdays are the cheapest days to fly, Diener says, adding that you don't have to fly with one of the big airlines to save money -- especially if you're traveling in Europe.
"Keep in mind you don't have to stick with the major carriers. Almost every European country has its own discount carrier, and new ones keep popping up all the time," he explains. "A lot of them have some great deals out there this summer."
5. Pack Light
You've probably heard this piece of advice before, but you may not have considered how much your extra baggage is really costing you, Graff says. And that goes for in the air and on the ground.
"People think of packing light when they think of air travel, but think about it with a car. Carrying an extra 100 pounds reduces a typical car's fuel efficiency by 1% to 2%," she says.
Not only that: If you pack lighter on a road trip, you and your family can squeeze into a smaller car.
"You're going to spend a lot less on gas if you can take your trip in a more fuel-efficient car," she says. "Check out the AAA fuel calculator
to see how much gas for your trip is going to cost. In many cases, you can save $100 or more by taking a smaller car."
With air travel, packing light can save a bundle on baggage fees and overweight charges.
"Baggage fees really add up. When you're buying your plane tickets, those fees should be considered part of the price of your trip," she says. "Also, keep in mind when you're packing that you can do laundry at your hotel. You don't have to pack so much."