It's summertime and that means vacation time. It also means that some vacationers will be piling on more debt.
According to the annual Summer Vacation Survey by Myvesta, a nonprofit consumer education organization, the average vacation this season will cost $2,378, up from $2,172 in 2002.
Of those taking a trip, about 78 percent say they plan to pay for all or part of their getaway with credit cards, and 28.5 percent plan on taking three or more months to pay off their vacation charges.
American Express' 2002 Leisure Travel Survey came up with similar results. Respondents to its survey said they planned on spending an average of $2,031, putting most of it on a credit card.
If every bit of that $2,031 was charged on a credit card with an annual percentage rate of 18 percent, the cost of the vacation would rise to $2,234.42 if paid back at $186 a month for one year, points out the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies.
But if the vacationer decided to just make the minimum payment of 2 percent of the unpaid balance (which is about what many credit card issuers require), that vacation would end up costing about $5,000 in interest alone and take 31 years to pay off.
"Using a credit card to pay for your vacation can be a very convenient way to track your spending, make hotel reservations and have financial security while traveling,'' said Myvesta's president and cofounder, Steve Rhode, in a release about the organization's survey. "But a credit card should not be used to finance a vacation you can't afford.
"While everyone needs a vacation from time to time, no one needs a huge bill when they return home, except maybe the credit card companies.''
AICCCA suggests people ask the following questions and consider the following points before heading to the airport or packing up the car:
Do a comparison
How much can I afford to spend on a vacation? Start by digging out the credit card bills from last year. Those bills might shock you into taking a lower-cost vacation this year. Really add up how much you spent. How long did it take to pay off your vacation? You may need a vacation, but ask yourself: Is racking up more debt going to stress me out more when I return? And if you find you can't afford your dream vacation this year, figure out how much it will cost and start saving this year, Rhode said.
"This is better than yet another year of empty and unrealized promises."
Is there a way to cut the costs of transportation? Take the time to hunt for good bargains on low-cost flights. Consider traveling nonpeak times. If you are traveling far, think about taking the train. In fact, my family is going to Orlando this summer and instead of buying five airline tickets and renting a car, we decided to take Amtrak's Auto Train. We saved about 20 percent (including the price for a family sleeper) by taking the train. Of course, it will take longer. But I love taking the train. You do have options so compare different modes of transportation and check for deals on the Internet and purchase tickets as far in advance as possible.
Is there a way to shave lodging costs? The Travel Industry Association of America reports that nearly 24 percent of domestic travelers spent almost a quarter of their total vacation budget on lodging in 2000. Try to cut that cost by looking for alternatives. Maybe you can stay at a family member or friend's home, a time-share property or a cabin. If staying in a nice hotel is a priority for you, make sure to cut expenses in another area or have enough money in your overall budget to cover the expense. Don't forget to show your membership cards from various groups such as AAA or AARP to see if it will trigger a discount.
What will I do for entertainment? Don't try to do too much while you're on vacation. Enjoy some down time. Stay away from the malls. Keep your visits to the theme parks to a minimum. Instead, opt for free or low-cost outdoor activities. That's exactly what my husband and I plan to do in Orlando. Of course, we plan to visit some of the theme parks, but we're mostly looking forward to plopping the children and our tired selves right by the pool. Before heading to your destination check for discount packages and create a budget and stick to it. Just remember, you don't need another T-shirt.
Do I really need to travel away from home? Take your vacation at home and visit your city or town as a tourist. Check with your local convention and visitors bureau to find out what's going on in your city for the summer. Maybe you could schedule a massage at a local day spa or spend the week playing golf at local courses. But if you stay home, don't be tempted to do housework or yard work. This is your vacation. Buy yourself some little chocolates and put them on your pillows before you leave for your daily excursion. That way when you return for the evening, it'll be just like your home is a fancy hotel.
Most important, follow Rhode's rule of vacations: "Have as much fun as you can afford."