Approximately 91.9 million Americans travel over 50 miles from home during the holiday season. Travel costs add up to over 14 billion dollars for the Thanksgiving holiday and another $58 billion in December travel, according to an annual Hotwire American Travel Behavior Survey.
The increase in tourists raises demand and leads to higher travel costs, making it more expensive to visit family and friends. As with other popular travel seasons, there are tricks to keeping prices down and saving money while on the road.
Avoid Last Minute Planning
The cost of flights and accommodations fluctuate daily and often rise closer to the holiday. Full flights and hotels can also leave you without the ability to travel where and how you prefer. Save money by signing up for price change alerts with websites such as Kayak and book soon after you finalize plans.
Aggregator websites make it easy to compare prices across competitors, but none is inclusive of all options. Check prices across multiple websites and independently review low-cost travel providers. For example, discount airlines such as Southwest and Jet Blue do not post fares on sites like Expedia and Travelocity.
Comparison sites can serve as a virtual travel agent and assist with booking flights, hotels, rental cars, and vacation packages. Even resources that appear only to offer one type of booking may have multiple services. For example, Hotels.com also book flights.
Before reserving with a third party, contact the company directly and request a rate match. In the event of a change, booking through a third-party site can result in paying two cancellation or change fees. One to the aggregator and one to the company holding your reservation. Always check cancellation and change fees before booking. Non-refundable fares are often the lowest prices available, but you could lose 100% of the reservation price if plans change.
Use the Competition to Your Advantage
Competition can lead to lower prices on all travel needs including hotels, flights, and rental cars. You can favor a single provider to build loyalty points, resulting in free travel perks. Some companies will match prices or accept competitor offers, saving you even more.
Another strategy is to look for alternate competitors before reserving. Hotels and resorts also compete with private owners renting homes through Airbnb and VRBO. Major airlines compete with discount carriers along with other forms of transportation such as trains or buses. Expanding your scope can lead to big savings.
Check Out Alternate Airports and Locations
Airlines offer better pricing when flying into a hub or an airport with competition from discount airlines. Low-cost airlines may fly into smaller airports, because of lower costs. Search across both major airports and regional alternatives to locate cost savings when flying. In major cities alternate airports could be 20 or 30 minutes away, reducing the inconvenience.
Car rentals, on the other hand, charge more if you pick up a vehicle at the airport, charging both higher rates and taxes. Taking public transportation to your accommodations and renting a vehicle from there can save money. Another way to save on car rentals is to rely on your personal auto coverage or use a credit card with rental insurance as a benefit. You could cut the car rental cost in half by avoiding high insurance rates.
Calculate All Costs Before Determining Savings
The fare or rate is not the only cost of travel. Airlines often charge baggage fees which can add up to $100 each way to your flight. Hotels can charge internet, parking and resort fees, which directly increase the cost of your stay. Before making a reservation, determine the total cost to make apples to apple comparisons across companies.
Choose When to Book Wisely
There is no guaranteed best time to book, but there are times that tend to be better than others. For example, flying at off-peak times or days of the week could lower costs. Arranging air travel a few days before or on the holiday will cost less than traveling the day before and the day after, which will have the highest demand.
Typically, it is cheaper to fly on December 23 through December 25, and New Year’s Eve and New Years Day because of lower demand. For Thanksgiving, flying the morning of Thanksgiving and the Saturday or Wednesday after the holiday, tend to have lower prices.
Tingo.com is a hotel booking site that will refund any price reduction after booking, to take some of the guesswork out of finding the lowest rate.
Use Reward Points
Holiday travel is a good time to redeem miles and hotel reward points to reduce out of pocket costs. Companies encourage loyalty by offering bonuses such as complimentary upgrades, free internet and parking, and personalized amenities. You can earn rewards with a reward credit card, which builds points through everyday purchases, or through free loyalty programs, which give you points for using the companies' services.
Be aware that companies may black out popular dates, and only offer a small percentage of rooms or seats available through reward points, benefiting customers who book early.
Avoid the Crowds
Primary and secondary schools typically close several days around Thanksgiving and two weeks around Christmas and New Year’s Day. Taking a vacation during school closings typically raises the cost of travel dramatically. However, booking during the off weeks, such as the first and second week in December, can lead to some of the lowest prices of the year.
On the other hand, cities catering to businesses rather than tourists often promote travel bargains during vacation weeks. High-end hotels reduce rates as much as 40-50% and business class airfare can reduce by half due to lower demand.
Drive Rather Than Fly
Family travel tends to cost less if you drive rather than fly. Even with rising gas prices, you could save a significant amount of money depending on the distance you plan to travel. Driving saves money on air or train fare, baggage, and parking fees. You can also eliminate car rental costs. On the downside, it could increase hotel costs if you cannot make the trip in one day.
There are many strategies that lower travel expenses, leaving you more funds for other holiday activities. Knowing where to look for deals and booking smart can keep costs in check.