By: Stella Katsipoutis
Got plans to travel this holiday season? Unless you’re hitching a free ride on Santa’s sleigh, visiting your out-of-state friends and family could end up costing you more than you expected. According to the United States Department of Transportation, the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is one of the busiest times of the year for travelers. Compared to the average for the rest of the year, the number of long-distance trips (50 miles or more) made by Americans jumps up by 54% during Thanksgiving, and 23% during the Christmas and New Year’s season. With so many people afoot, travel costs inevitably begin to rise as airlines, hotels and other industry giants capitalize on the increased demand.
While getting from point A to point B during this time of year can get expensive, that’s not to say you can’t cut down on some of your costs. Don’t let price hikes squash your excitement for spending time with your loved ones: Just try these simple tricks to save money on holiday travel instead!
The moment you decide you’re heading to another city for the holidays is the exact moment you should start researching fares and booking your trip. The sooner you lock in your tickets, the better your chances are of finding great prices. The longer you wait, however, the higher those dollar signs are likely to climb.
Need a couple of days to decide? When you search for airfare on Kayak.com, the site’s purchase advisory feature will help you get an idea of whether or not the fares you’re looking at will increase or decrease in the next seven days, and it’ll give you their experts’ recommendation as to whether you should buy now or hold off in order to get the best rates. During the holidays, however, when prices can dramatically change from one day to the next, the site is more likely to advise you to purchase tickets right away. Holding off to book your trip on a Tuesday or Wednesday—rather than a Friday or Saturday, when most people are planning their trips too—may also yield better fares.
If you’re making reservations way in advance and are concerned that the airfare you’ve already purchased might drop in price in the next day or so, the Best Price Guarantees offered by sites like Orbitz, Expedia and Priceline could help you get a refund for the difference if the price does happen to fall within 24 hours of your time of booking. Just make sure to read up on all the rules first to make sure you’re eligible.
Airfare is usually the most expensive if you travel on the days directly before and after a holiday, because that’s when most travelers are out and about. But if you fly out on the actual day of the holiday, you could score some deeply discounted tickets. It may not be an ideal setup for your family, but it could do wonders for your budget. Even if you have to arrive a little later than they hoped, your loved ones will understand that holiday travel can be pricey, and in the end they’ll just be happy to be able to spend the special day with you.
If your holiday destination is within reasonable driving distance, then why not hop in your car or on a bus and make your own way there? Going on a road trip has the potential to be much more cost-effective than going by plane, since you’ll be skipping out on that cranked-up airfare and extra baggage fees. Consider how much time you’ll be on the road, as well as how much you’ll spend on gas or on your bus ticket, and weigh your options. If the price is right and you won’t be spending more time behind the wheel than you can handle, then go for it!
Speaking of baggage, all you air travelers out there will want to make sure you’re not hit with extra fees for packing an overweight suitcase. Pack as lightly as possible, and opt for practical gifts that won’t weigh down your baggage too much if you have to haul them along. (Gift cards are a great option, and they may even help you forego checking in a suitcase altogether!) Paying for your baggage online before you get to the airport might also help you avoid any major fees if your bag is one or two pounds over the limit.
If you’re packing presents, don’t bother wrapping them up in pretty paper and bows before putting them in your suitcase. They’ll likely get wrinkled and/or torn, and you might even have to open them at the airport if security requests to inspect your luggage. Save yourself the time, money and hassle that comes with re-wrapping, and simply wait until you reach your destination to put the finishing touches on your gifts.
One of the great things about online shopping—aside from the fact that you can do it while sitting on your couch, helping you avoid the holiday madness—is that many retailers (e.g., Walmart, Best Buy, Home Depot, and more) offer free site-to-store delivery. To avoid lugging around presents while you travel (that’s Santa’s job, not yours!) and paying baggage fees, buy your gifts on a participating retailer’s website, ship them to a brick-and-mortar store located near your destination, and pick them up when you arrive. Just make sure to pay close attention to the items’ estimated arrival date, and time your purchase correctly; most stores only hold your items for a few days.
Like airfare, the price to park your car at the airport also usually skyrockets during the holiday season since so many people are vying for a space. Plus, daily rates can really rack up a huge bill if you’re going away for a week or more. If you know anyone who will be in town when you leave, don’t be shy to ask for a ride to the airport. You might be surprised by how many people are willing to step up and help out—it is the season of giving, after all! If you can’t get dropped off, consider using public transportation (if it’s not too strenuous of a trek) or even hailing a cab or an Uber (which could end up costing you much less than long-term parking). Crunch the numbers well ahead of your trip and go with the most wallet-friendly choice.
More holiday travelers equal more traffic on the road, longer check-in lines at the airport and longer waiting times at TSA screening checkpoints. The only thing worse than paying too much for your plane ticket is missing your flight because of traffic, and paying even more money in fees to get on the next departure. (Not to mention that you might risk missing the holiday celebration with your loved ones altogether.) Play it safe and beat the holiday rush by giving yourself more than enough time to get to the airport, and showing up well in advance of your flight time.
Do you have any money-saving tricks up your sleeve that you like to use when the holidays come around? Tell us about them in the comments section below!
Wherever you might be headed this season, we wish you safe travels and very happy holidays.
The content provided in this blog consists of the opinions and ideas of the author alone and should be used for informational purposes only. VyStar Credit Union disclaims any liability for decisions you make based on the information provided.