Vacation costs up, but bargains available

Vacation costs up, but bargains available Overall lodging and dining costs have gone up nearly 2 percent in the last year, according to AAA's annual vacation costs survey.

AAA's annual vacation survey shows that a family of two adults and two children can expect to pay an average of $244 per day for food and lodging. Lodging rates will average $132 a night, up $5 from last year. Meals will cost $112, unchanged from 2002.

"The sluggish economy and the war in Iraq resulted in fewer bookings during the spring, which means that there are still some lodging deals to be found this summer," said Cheri Cihak, AAA South Dakota's director of public affairs and marketing. "If they know where to look and are flexible with their travel dates, vacationers can reap real savings at many hotels, motels and resorts."

AAA has been tracking vacation costs since 1950 when the average cost of meals and lodging was $13.

The least expensive vacations in the United States, unchanged from last year, are in North Dakota, where food and lodging will cost an average family of four $175 per day. South Dakota is among the five least expensive destinations at $180.90 per day. The most expensive, also unchanged from 2002, is Hawaii at $533 per day.

AAA recommends that vacationers traveling by car budget $13.52 for gasoline, oil and maintenance every 100 miles, based on an average price of $1.50 per gallon and a vehicle traveling 23 miles per gallon. It is also important for families to budget money for entertainment, souvenirs and unexpected expenses.

AAA offers these tips for saving money on a vacation:

* Before traveling, have your car checked out by a qualified mechanic to help avoid inefficient fuel use and possible breakdowns.

* Book accommodations in advance to ensure availability, selection and to guarantee the best rate.

* Use discounts, such as those offered to AAA members, to help save on lodging, restaurant and entertainment costs.

* Cut food costs by packing your own snacks and meals whenever possible. Also, eat the largest meal at lunch to take advantage of lower menu prices.

* Find lodging in outlying areas, away from tourist and business destinations.

AAA's meal and lodging costs are based on prices listed in AAA's TourBook¨ guides.

AAA is a not for profit federation of 86 clubs with more than 1,000 offices providing 43 million members in the United States and Canada with travel, insurance, financial and auto-related services. AAA South Dakota has offices in Aberdeen, Brookings, Huron, Madison, Mitchell, Pierre, Rapid City, Spearfish, Sioux Falls (3), Vermillion, Watertown and Yankton.

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