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Most of us dream of taking a much-needed, stress-free vacation. But jetting off to a sunny destination, a ski resort or a foreign country is often just a pipe dream thanks to mounting home and work responsibilities. That is, until we can afford to take an escape.

Sometimes we find ourselves in the lucky situation of being able to leave for a few days or a couple of weeks, but we also don’t have a ton of money in the bank to splurge on a fancy trip. Rather than take a staycation or stress over finding the best deal with only days to go, we’ve put together a list of must-know tips for balancing that fine line of spontaneity and procrastination, and how to make it all come together on the cheap.

Hunt for deals online

Sure, sure this may seem obvious, but the days of finding great deals in the commuter paper are long gone. More importantly, there are a plethora of websites out there devoted to helping us find the best deals on a daily basis… to the point that there are almost too many places to look.

Redtag.ca and Selloffvacations.com are two go-tos when it comes to finding deals on beach vacations, whereas Expedia.ca has some great hotel deals and Flightcentre.ca has a pretty comprehensive list of all the cheapest flights.

Sign up for newsletters

Occasionally, the best deals are the ones that are delivered right to our inboxes. Thanks to recent programs like Groupon Getaways and Travelzoo, it’s now possible to be notified of major deals on cool vacations and experiences on a daily or weekly basis. It’s also a great idea to sign up for airline carrier newsletters, especially since they tend to use email to convey these deals to their loyal customers. And, don’t forget to follow these companies on social media, too. They’ll often blast whatever promos they have to their feeds, meaning you can get a jump on everyone else when it comes to booking.

Look for a price match guarantee

As we’ve mentioned, there are so many vacation, flight and hotel carriers out there these days, and some are a lot easier to book than others. Our favourites are the ones that offer price match guarantees (meaning they’ll lower the price to match a cheaper deal if you find one), like PC Travel or Flight Network. Even better though? A price drop guarantee, which many of the packages on Red Tag promise.

Check in with a travel agent

Okay, so you’ve found some pretty great deals online and you have a sense of where you want to go… but it’s never a bad idea to check in with a live travel agent before you actually book. Sometimes — like if you’re travelling with an infant — you’ll need to do this anyways. But more often than not, live agents may also be able to offer you an additional incentive, like free bag checks, an extra excursion or some cash off. Our motto is that it never hurts to ask, and if you don’t like what you hear or the deal you found online is still better, you can always just stick with what you originally found.

Time your trip

Most of us believe that when it comes to trips, the more last-minute the better. While this used to be true, the reality now is that “last minute” means roughly 14 days out when it comes to an all-inclusive vacation. But in terms of hotels and flights? The golden rule is 30-60 days in advance. However long you give yourself, be sure to clear your internet’s history and cookies before making a new search, as sometimes the prices can actually go up thanks to savvy sites that want to pressure you to book.

Also important to note about booking trips: Think about the seasonal timing of where you want to go. Europe is more expensive in the summer when students and new grads head overseas to backpack. Meanwhile, March Break and Reading Week mean crazy expensive prices for many all-inclusives. If you can time your trip to be “off-season,” you’ll get a better overall deal, even if it’s last minute.

Be flexible

When it comes to last-minute deals, it’s easier to get the best price if you have flexibility built into your schedule. Not nailing down your exact dates in advance means you’ll have access to more pricing options, while being open to your actual destination also opens up more doors. If your goal is to go “somewhere hot” rather than a specific city in a designated country, cheap serendipity could easily be yours.

Travel midweek

The majority of us follow a traditional work week, as in Monday to Friday. And that means weekends are typically a busy travel time for airports and hotels. Busy = higher prices, since there’s less competition and more travellers. So if you want to really take advantage of a wicked price, try to time your trip from a Monday to Monday or a Wednesday to Wednesday. Flying midweek is always less expensive than it is on the weekends, and hotel rooms are infinitely cheaper, too.

Look for new openings

Sometimes it does pay off to be specific, especially when it comes to new hotels that are just opening up and need the publicity. A quick Google search can typically tell you about new hotel openings in countries or cities you’re interested in visiting. Then, once you’ve nailed down a couple of places you’re interested in, visit the hotel’s direct website to see how much they’re offering new rooms for. The prices may surprise you.

Book your flight and hotel separately

All-inclusive resorts are great when it comes to a beach vacation in Jamaica, Cuba, Dominican Republic or Mexico, but they may not be your cheapest option. In fact, booking your hotel and flight together for any kind of vacation are not always the cheapest way to go. If you can find an incredibly priced flight somewhere, don’t necessarily book your hotel through that same site or agent. Not when there are options like Airbnb or search aggregators like Kayak to choose from, which find the best prices for you.

Read the reviews

Deals that seem too good to be true probably are. That’s why we recommend that before booking anything, you read what real people who have been to your destination or hotel have to say about it. Trip Advisor is the go-to spot when it comes to all things tips, tricks and reviews, thanks to thousands and thousands of entries from new, intermediate and experienced travellers. It may take some time to sift through all the comments, but that’s where you’ll find all the good stuff. Don’t forget to look through the user photos of the place as well — they’re way less edited and staged than the official promo pics.

Don’t hesitate

So you’ve done your research, know where you want to go and found your perfect price? Book it. Now. When you find something great, procrastinating on the actual booking part is almost a surefire way to lose it. While hotels may have lots of rooms left, last-minute travel deals often means flights are nearly full. If you want to reserve your spot, now’s the time to pull the trigger. Otherwise, it could be another staycation of storage room organizing and spring cleaning for you.

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