How to Avoid Spending a Fortune on Holiday Travel

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The holidays are a time to get together with loved ones, eat favorite foods, and enjoy family traditions. For many of us, it also means figuring out how to get home for the holidays, though some might instead focus on traveling to a popular vacation spot to spend the holidays. Either way, traveling during the holidays can be quite costly. Experts recommend buying your tickets between two months and a week before your travel date. There are also a few other travel hacks you can use to avoid spending more than can you afford on holiday travel.

Be Flexible on Dates

Flights are more expensive during the holidays. SkyScanner reports that an average domestic round-trip flight in November costs $306, but the same flight costs $325 in December. Some peak travel days are even more expensive during the holiday season. For instance, the most expensive day to fly home for Christmas is Dec. 21, while Christmas Day is the cheapest. Planning Thanksgiving travel? The most expensive days to fly are the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday and Monday after Thanksgiving. Adjusting your itinerary to fly before or after the highest-demand days can net you serious savings.

Be Flexible With How You Travel

Most people assume that flying is the best way to get home for the holidays, but it’s a good idea to do a little math before you commit to airline tickets. And don’t just add up ticket prices: Add up your time, too. You have to get to the airport two hours early (at least), then spend time boarding, disembarking, and enduring flight delays. Given all of that, will flying save you that much time? For distances where the actual flight time is less than two hours, it may not. Use a fly-or-drive calculator to see exactly how much time and money each method of travel will cost you. These calculators let you put in your starting location, your destination, the number of people traveling, how you will get to the airport, and what kind of car you drive. They use this data to determine how much driving will cost and how long the trip will take versus how long and how much flying would cost. You might also want to consider taking a train: Amtrak has routes across the country. Another approach is to take one of the inexpensive long-haul bus services that have popped up in the past decade. Some tickets cost as little as a dollar, and the buses often offer power outlets and Wi-Fi.

Pack Light

Most airlines are now charging between $25 and $50 for your first checked bag and $25 to $60 for your second. If you’re looking to save money, you’ll want to travel light. First, figure out how to pack everything you need in a carry-on bag. For regular trips, this might not be too difficult, but traveling for the holidays often means that you’ll need to figure out how to get presents to your destination, too. There are a few ways to accomplish this and avoid checked-bag fees. First, if you are shopping online, have the packages sent to where you will be spending the holiday and not to your home. You’ll need to keep up with shipping notifications and communicate with someone at the location to make sure your packages have arrived. If you’re shopping online with a business that has brick-and-mortar locations, try using the “pick up at store” option and choosing a store close to where you will be spending the holidays. Make sure you confirm their pickup policy! Some stores only hold merchandise for a short period of time. If you’ve already bought presents, you may need to ship them. You’ll save money on shipping using the USPS instead of a private company. Just make sure to pack the presents in a sturdy box and protect any fragile gifts.

Use Fare-Tracking Apps

If you are committed to flying, how can you find the best price? Most people go directly to the airline’s website or use Google Flights or other flight aggregators. The best way to find a great deal, though, is to download an app that allows you to enter your information (home airport, destination, dates, number traveling) and then sends you alerts about great deals or price drops. Here are some of the best apps for finding a great deal on your holiday flights:

  • Hopper: Hopper will not only alert you when the price of a flight drops, but it also uses years of historical data about your airports to map out the best rates, meaning that you’ll be able to find the best potential deal you’ll see.
  • Momondo: Momondo is a bare-bones app that focuses on finding you the best flight to your predetermined destination.

Meal-Plan on the Go

Airport food is expensive, and even if you are traveling by car, the cost of fast food can add up quickly. So do a little meal planning and prepping before you head out. Not only will you save money, but you’ll end up with better (and healthier!) food. Worried about bringing food through airport security? Don’t be. The TSA website states that you can bring solid foods (not liquids or gels) in your carry-on or your checked luggage. The usual rules apply about liquid or gel foods: Keep anything larger than 3.4 ounces in your checked luggage only. So feel free to bring a sandwich, but skip the soup (and for the sake of your fellow passengers, skip the smelly foods, too, like tuna). You can also bring an empty water bottle and fill it up at a bottle-filling station once you clear security. Traveling by car or train? You have the flexibility to pack a cooler and bring along anything you’ll want to eat during the journey.

Seek Out Alternative Lodging

Hotels, like flights, get more expensive around the holidays. The best way to save money is to stay with friends or family: Instead of spending money on accommodations, you can instead pay for meals out or groceries to thank your hosts. Plus, staying with the people you traveled to visit lets you maximize the time you get to spend with them. You might also want to try Airbnb or other services that let you rent an entire house or apartment. Using one of these services lets you save money on accommodations but also lets you stay somewhere with a kitchen, which will allow you to save money on food by skipping costly restaurant meals.

Use Credit Card Points

Not using cash to pay for holiday travel is a great way to save money! Do you have a credit card that offers reward points? Use those points to fund your vacation. According to a 2019 survey conducted by Bankrate, 29% of reward points go unclaimed, and 46% of airline or hotel rewards aren’t used before they expire. Check all of your credit cards to see if you have available points or rewards.

If this is not the year for big holiday travel due to financial strain as a result of an unexpected emergency, it may be helpful to understand all of the different alternative lending options that may be available to help you through difficult financial times. Secured title loans and personal loans may be good options for those that may not qualify for traditional bank loans.

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