9 Holiday Travel Tips to Help You Save Money

The upcoming holidays, including Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year, are the busiest and most popular travel times across the country.

They are also the most expensive times to travel. When cost is a factor, it can be disappointing to miss out on visiting family and friends because you are not sure how to afford these added expenses in addition to gifts, holiday entertainment and activities.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize the hit to your budget. If you plan ahead and take some simple steps to reduce the cost of airline tickets and other travel expenses, then your travel plans can be a reality this year. Being frugal, keeping an open mind about methods of transportation and remaining flexible about schedules when planning your travel can help you make a much-anticipated holiday visit even if your budget is a slim one. These holiday travel tips can help you save money while still getting to where you are going comfortably.

1.     Plan Ahead

Do not wait until the last minute and decide to surprise the family with a visit unless you want to pay full or inflated prices for airline tickets. You can find your best rates by looking for flights at least six weeks in advance. For Christmas, flight prices start to climb after the 10th of December. Some flights fill quickly, so booking early also ensures you get the flight you want.

2.     Take Advantage of Social Media

Most airlines offer specials online via Facebook, Twitter and other social media these days. Sign up for their sites, follow and like them. You receive alerts when there are discounts and special deals. Also, visit popular travel sites and sign up for email alerts.

3.     Fly When Others Are Not

It is much cheaper to fly somewhere early Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve than a day or two before. If your family can celebrate Thanksgiving on Friday instead of Thursday, then a Thanksgiving Day flight can save you as much as 35 percent over a flight just one day earlier. Look for off-peak flights as well. If you can fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday or take a redeye flight, then you can save up to 20 percent over a more popular weekend and daytime flights.

4.     Consider Smaller Airports

Flying out of Pittsburgh may seem the only way to go if you live in a suburb of the city but you have cheaper options. If you can get to Cleveland, then you may find cheaper flights to your destination. Check smaller, regional airports that are within less than a two-hour drive and you may be surprised at the low cost of flying compared to using large, international airports.

5.     Stop Paying Additional Fees

It is tempting to pack lots of “just in case” outfits for the holidays, but the extra baggage fees can really add up. Pare down your packing to the essentials with one special outfit you can accessorize a few different ways just in case you get an unexpected holiday event invitation at your destination.

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The cost of parking at most airports goes up during the holidays and finding a space in long-term parking can be a challenge. Ask someone to drop you off at the airport instead or pay a rideshare driver through the app. The longer you are gone, the more money you can save. You also will not have to worry about damage to your vehicle in a crowded parking lot.

6.     Minimize Gift Packing

You may want to show up at your grandchildren’s house with a suitcase full of colorfully wrapped gifts, but this can add a bundle to your holiday travel expenses. Overweight luggage and lugging around those packages can add to your travel costs. Shop online early in the season and look for deals on free gift wrap and shipping. Send the gifts directly to the place you are visiting so the gifts arrive in time. As an alternative, purchase gift cards. A day of shopping with your friends and family can be an adventure the day after Christmas and prices are slashed on many items.

7.     Forego the Blue Skies

Most people fly to their destinations during the holidays, but you can save a substantial amount of money if you consider other options. Train travel is once again becoming popular and can give you the chance to relax and watch the scenery go by during an otherwise hectic time of year. Bus travel is also an option. Megabus is a service running between major cities offering amenities like Wi-Fi, free movie and TV downloads, restrooms, personal power ports and available reserved seating with tables. It is as far from traditional, cramped bus travel, as you can get on wheels at prices that may amaze you.

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Also, consider driving to your destination. It may add hours or even a day to your travel, but the cost savings can be significant. If it is a long drive, then be sure to figure in the cost of fuel, food and tolls when comparing costs. If you decide driving is the way to go, then consider additional ways to save money, including:

  • Investing in an EZ Pass or another automatic payment system for tolls, which often offer lower rates than pay as you go.
  • Packing a cooler with snacks and drinks and eat in your car or at roadside picnic areas for meals
  • Comparing prices for gasoline in the states you plan to drive through. You can save as much as 70 cents a gallon in some states over others due to taxes and other fees. Fill up in states with the lowest prices. There are many online sites and apps to help save money.
  • Carpooling with others headed to the same city. Split the cost of fuel and take turns driving and you can arrive with more money and more rest.

8.     Use Your Credit Cards Effectively

There are numerous ways using a credit card can actually save you money on holiday travel. If you have a card that accumulates travel rewards, then now is the time to use those points to get a deal on your airline tickets. You can also use the points for free upgrades, baggage fee waivers and more. If your points expire at the end of the year, then use them up for the holidays.

9.    Reschedule the Holidays

If you want to save some serious money, then talk to your family about celebrating the holidays the weekend after the actual date. Airline costs can be considerably less and you can score some points with a coworker if you agree to cover the holidays at work. Working with your family, planning ahead and being selective about your plans can all translate to holiday travel savings you appreciate long after the holiday glow has faded.

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