It’s the most wonderful time of the year—unless you’re traveling, that is. If you’re not careful, the holidays can easily become a budget-busting, migraine-inducing exercise in anger management. Don’t let it happen to you! This year, give yourself the gift of a smooth travel experience that’s easy on the wallet. Here’s how.
Don’t count on a Christmas miracle when booking holiday travel. Due to an economic rebound and capacity cuts, last-minute deals are a scarcity—especially during the holidays. The earlier you search and book flights, rental cars, and accommodations (including vacation rentals), the more likely you are to find a reasonable price.
The Cheapest Days to Fly: Convenience vs. Affordability
In general, holiday travel is considerably more expensive than everyday fares, and the most convenient and preferred travel days are also the priciest. While there are no “cheap” days to fly during the holidays, there certainly are specific days that ease the ouch on the wallet.
With Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day all taking place on Thursdays this season, the busiest travel days are sure to be the Wednesdays leading up to each holiday, followed by the Sundays after them. For more reasonable fares, depart from your vacation spot on the Friday or Saturday after the holiday. Of course, the further from the holiday you travel, the cheaper fares will be.
Fly on the Actual Holiday
Alternatively, you could travel on the holiday itself. Historically, day-of flights are the cheapest compared to the dates surrounding major holidays, so flexibility pays—or saves in this case.
Celebrate Gatherings During Non-Holiday Dates
Start a new tradition and celebrate a couple of weeks before or after the actual holiday. While this may not be feasible for wee ones that still believe in Santa or for holidays like New Year’s Eve, this strategy has the potential to save you a ton on travel (think of all the discounted gift wrap—booyah!).
Compare Rates from Multiple Sources
Regardless of your preferred mode of travel, it’s crucial to compare rates for airfare, car rentals, and accommodations.
Baggage Fees: Calculate Your Flight’s Grand Total
Factor airline fees into the price for your flight. Aside from the base cost of the flight itself, expect to also be hit with bag fees ranging from $15 to $100—and that’s just for the first bag. Excess bag fees (for multiple, over-sized and overweight bags) are considerably more and go as high as $200 each.
Pro tip: Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit Airlines charge as much as $60, $5, and $79 for the first bag, respectively, when you check your bags at the airport instead of online. The fees vary for second and excess bags.
Also, Spirit Airlines is doing the unseasonal thing of upping its bag fees by $2 during the holiday season from December 18 through January 5.
Consider an Alternate Airport
Secondary or alternate airports are usually located on the outskirts of the city they serve but can be a great option for considerably cheaper air routes. For example, the second-largest airport in Chicago, Midway, is a short 10 miles from the city center and serves major carriers AirTran, Delta, Frontier, Porter, and Southwest. Other alternate airports include Oakland for San Francisco, White Plains for JFK or LaGuardia, Ft. Lauderdale for Miami, Long Beach or Santa Ana for Los Angeles’ LAX, and so on.
Book Accommodations Via a Price-Drop Site
It’s never too early to book your hotel—when doing so through specific sites, that is. It seems like everyone has a price-drop guarantee these days. Most, however, require you find the cheaper rate yourself and only guarantee money back if you find the lower price within 24 hours of booking.
The only site that automatically guarantees rate drops on hotels is our sister site Tingo, which instantly reimburses your credit card whenever your preferred hotel’s rates drop.
Because of the high demand, the old standard of car rentals being cheaper during the weekend doesn’t necessarily apply during the holidays, and that’s why different strategies should be practiced.
As with holiday flights, book your car rental as early as possible—now, if you can. Most car bookings are cancellable, so you should periodically check rates even after you’ve booked. And remember, car rentals also net frequent-flyer miles, so link up your preferred program with the car-rental company when booking or picking up the car.
Get on the Phone Immediately
Arrive at the airport earlier than normal because holidays draw large crowds, leading to congested parking lots and lengthy security lines. Reduce the number of lines you’ll be subjected to by not checking bags and by printing out your boarding passes at home (or downloading them onto your mobile device).
For a more expedited security-line experience, leave the jewelry at home, wear slip-on shoes, and take off bulky sweaters and jackets as you approach metal detectors. (Sigh, if only everyone else before you did, too.) Packages should not be wrapped as they go through the screening process. For a list of what’s allowed through security, use the TSA’s handy 3-1-1 app.
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