There are hundreds of ways to save on family travel these days. All the options, however, can sometimes be overwhelming for busy parents. When planning your next family trip, you might peruse large sites like Priceline or Hotwire, scour special deals from Groupon or Jetsetter, or use apps like Hotel Tonight. But who has time to do this for each and every weekend getaway?
Today’s hint is one saving strategy that might surprise you: consider using discounts from the American Automobile Association (AAA) as a consistent and reliable way to save on family travel. With so many flashy and more technologically-advanced discounts, it might seem silly to rely on the same travel discounter your parents used. But I often do. For most families who travel a few times a year, AAA membership can be well worth the cost.
Depending on where in the country you live, first year membership rates in AAA can be as low as $52 a year. My family opts for the more comprehensive AAA Plus membership for both my husband and me (currently $143 a year for us in California). We have more than made back that cost in discounts and roadside assistance every year.
Here are the most common ways families can use AAA to save money on travel.
1. Free Hertz car seat rentals. The biggest value that my family gets out of our AAA membership each year is in renting cars with Hertz. Hertz and AAA have a special partnership offering significant rental car discounts if you book through the AAA site and use the available coupon codes. But my favorite benefit is that Hertz gives AAA members a free car seat with every rental. Most car rental companies charge $8 to $12 a day to rent a car seat. On a week’s vacation, not having to pay for a car seat can save serious money. And you also save the hassle of lugging the car seat with you. Whenever we fly without a car seat but know we will need one at our destination, we use this AAA Hertz benefit. Some years, we’ve saved well over $100 just on car seats alone.
2. Savings on hotels. Almost every major hotel chain offers small discounts off of regular room rates to AAA members. Often these discounts are $5 to $10 a night, but they can sometimes be bigger. If your family stays in hotels several nights a year, these savings alone could easily pay for the cost of a basic AAA membership.
3. Discount tickets. AAA offers discounted admissions to many museums and theme parks. These little savings can add up for families. We’ve used our AAA membership to save on entry to Sea World in San Diego as well as to save on entrance to several local children’s museums. Note that not all discounts are listed on AAA’s website, so you should always check the website of the museum or theme park to see if AAA discounts are available. Often, you simply need to show your card when entering to save a few dollars.
4. Help when stranded with cranky kids on the road. The most common reason to join AAA is roadside assistance, and families need this benefit as much as anyone. Road trips with toddlers are tough enough without being stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire. I’ve personally used AAA several times to jump a dead battery and also to tow my car a long distance after a breakdown on a ski vacation. If you have little ones in the back seat, having AAA for simple peace of mind is probably worth the small cost.
Do you use AAA to save on family travel? What are some other AAA-membership benefits you’ve found?
Hint Mama contributor Leslie Neeland Harvey is an attorney in San Francisco and mom of two kids, ages 5 and almost 1. She blogs about the joys and challenges of family travel at Trips With Tykes. Visiting scattered family in Alabama, North Carolina, and Connecticut, she and her husband find themselves flying with kids many times a year. Her philosophy: Good planning can make family travel really fun, even if it still involves the occasional in-flight tantrum or battle with TSA agents about shelf-stable milk (it’s allowed, folks!). Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.