The official start of summer is just a few short weeks away, and we'd bet your thoughts are already turning to sun-drenched beaches, scenic hikes, and the pleasantly unfamiliar sites and smells of foreign cities. In other words...vacation!

Then reality intrudes: Can you afford one?

Here are five ways to score vacation deals and trim your travel bill to help you leave the spending guilt at home.

Tap Travel Rewards CardsTravel reward cards

BillShrink, a web site devoted to helping you literally shrink your bills, has identified what it deems the top five travel rewards cards that can save you big time.

These include the CapitalOne Venture Rewards Card, which offers two miles for every dollar spent, in addition to 10,000 miles after a single purchase. "What does that equate to? A $100 credit for any airline ticket," Schwark Satyavolu, CEO of BillShrink, told WalletPop.

The CapitalOne Orbitz Visa Platinum offers three points for every dollar spent on Orbitz booking your flights, hotels and cars, and, adds Ssatyavolu "one point per dollar for all other purchases."

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card offers a number of perks, including 25,000 bonus points -- "enough for a free flight," says Satyavolu -- after you spend $3,000 in the first three months of usage.

The Discover Escape Card rewards 1,000 bonus miles each month a consumer makes a purchase for their first 25 months (do the math and you've got an extra 25,000 miles. "Additionally, this card offers double miles on all purchases and an additional two miles for every $1 spent at ShopDiscover.com," Satyavolu says.

American Express' Starwood Preferred Guest Card offers a 10,000 point sign-up bonus. "That's enough for three free nights [at a Starwood hotel] after the first purchase, and two points for every $1 spent at Starwood," Satyavolu says.

Find Last Minute Deals on Big City Hotelscity hotels

Hotel Tonight bills itself as "the quickest, easiest, most convenient" way to book a same-day hotel stay on your mobile phone and still snatch up a deal on hip, elegant or basic accommodations in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington D.C.

"Because it's a last-minute buy and it's only for one night, you can get some great deals –- roughly what you'd get on Priceline or HotWire, and you get to see the names before booking," according to AOL's TechCrunch.

SniqueAwayMine Private Sale Web Sites for High-end Vacation Discounts

Private sale web sites, which typically offer big discounts on high-end goods during 36-to-48 hour "flash sale" events, are all the rage for fashion, but don't forget to mine them for travel deals, too.

SniqueAway.com, for instance, boasts its "sleek, chic and always unique" hotel packages at discounts that can be as much as 60% off regular prices. Jetseter.com, a division of Gilt Groupe, the biggest among the fashion private sale sites, also offers bargains on high-end travel deals.

Airplane budget flightsPreempt Travel Expenses With Airline Policy Insight

AirFareWatchdog.com has some helpful new airline policy charts that can help you preempt unplanned travel expenses by being in the know on carriers' varying rules before you book your flight.

The site's Airlines' Courtesy Fare-Hold and 24-Hour Chancel/Change Policies chart details carriers' varying cancellation policies on flight change fees.

And in the event you lose your luggage on an international flight, AirFareWatchdog.com's Excess Baggage Valuation Chart outlines airlines' differing compensation policies.

Twitter can save moneyTweet to Land Something Cheap

Airlines are now tweeting flight deals on Twitter. Consumer Reports spotlights @JetBlueCheeps for inexpensive JetBlue fairs, @UnitedAirlines'Tware for United Airlines flights and @FrontierSale for Frontier Airlines flights. Just know that seats are limited.


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