You might not have taken your dream vacation this summer, but if you start planning now, it can come true for next year. These days you can put travel on layaway. It's a new take on more traditional layaway plans for things like big-ticket appliances or Christmas presents.
Richard Popkin and his wife Karol like to put their getaways on layaway.
"It offers me the opportunity to put down very little money at the beginning," Popkin said.
The couple takes as many as five big trips a year. Their trick? To look for deals and jump on them fast.
"Making a decision by only having to put down $200 per person is certainly a lot easier than if we had to pay for the whole trip," Popkin said.
The idea is to pay it off slowly in installments. The timing depends on the type of vacation you choose, but you must pay in full before you head to the airport.
"A typical vacation will cost $2,000 or $3,000 for a family of four. People just don't have that money saved up. You can put any kind of a trip on layaway. They're typically used for more expensive trips like a cruise or a European vacation," said George Hobica, founder of airfarewatchdog.com.
It's putting that milestone trip within reach.
"We empower the consumer to have the flexibility to book a vacation up to 18 months before the trip is going to take place," said Marty Seslow, vice president of marketing and sales for Gate 1 Travel.
Seslow says tough economic times brought vacation layaway to the forefront. But it's not just for the budget conscious.
"We see the folks that are on a budget and on a shoestring budget taking advantage of this. And then we see folks at the higher end of the spectrum buying a more deluxe vacation experience," Seslow said.
When you use layaway, you don't run up credit card interest charges, and you have the benefit of locking in the price of that trip early on.
But experts say there are potential drawbacks.
"You do tie up your money, sometimes over several years, and that's money that you could probably be using for something else. So you're giving the company a free loan," Hobica said.
Like merchandise layaway plans, not all travel pay-as-you-go programs are equal. Some will refund your money or help you defer the trip if problems arise, but others might not.
"You really have to make sure that you have some travel insurance and study the cancellation policies," Hobica said.
Seslow says putting a trip on layaway gives you something to look forward to.
"Travelers enjoy the planning of travel as much as the actual experience of travel," Seslow said.
If you're looking to save some money on that big vacation, here's a tip: Many travel companies that have layaway plans will give you a discount if you pay it off in cash.