Planning a trip home or a vacation for the holidays? Now is a great time to put together a travel budget and start searching for the best holiday flights and cheap holiday packages for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's celebrations.
As you get busy comparing prices and seeking out some of the best deals, don’t overlook some of the not-so-obvious savings strategies savvy travelers are already taking advantage of. Click through to see how money experts are saving this holiday season.
1. Use the 47-Day Rule
Planning ahead is one of the best ways to save on travel any time of year. And when it comes to holiday reservations, you’ll want to plan over a month ahead — 47 days to be exact.
“Many recent analyses of airfares have concluded the best time to book the cheapest airfare on a domestic flight is 47 days ahead of your planned travel,” said Erin Warren, smart shopping expert at Splender.
2. Travel the Day of
You might make a few relatives upset but traveling on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas and other holidays could help you trim down travel costs said Beth Godlin, president of Aon Affinity Travel Practice.
“Most people travel the day before and right after the holiday, so those days tend to be more expensive for booking,” she said.
3. Book in Bulk
“The same bargain shopping principle of buying in bulk that can produce heavy discounts on household goods can also deliver great savings on vacation excursions,” said Warren. You might be eligible for a bulk discount if you're buying a series of trips this holiday season.
4. Bring Your Own Water Bottle
Staying hydrated is important when flying, but the cost of bottled water at the airport can range anywhere from $2 to $4 per bottle. That added expense can really add up, said Keith Nowak, director of communications at Travelocity.
“A lot of airports are making it easier to stay hydrated on the cheap with ‘hydration stations’ … just remember to bring an empty water bottle with you," he said. "If you really want to save space in your carry-on, try a collapsible water bottle."
5. Revisit the Same Hotel
You might be eligible for discounts on your reservation through a hotel loyalty program or rewards points you earned from a previous booking.
“If you travel to the same place each year, consider staying at the same hotel for loyalty perks, which can include complimentary room upgrades or possibly a better rate," recommended Reservations.com co-founders Yatin Patel and Mahesh Chaddah.
6. Book Car Rentals on Your Own
Even though many travel booking engines give you the option to add a car rental to your purchase, you could get a better deal booking on your own.
Erin Gifford, a family travel expert and founder of Kidventurous.com, said she books her car rentals through AutoSlash because “they automatically apply any coupon codes out there and keep looking for the lowest rates (even re-booking when they do).” This way, you always get the best available deal.
7. Get Travel Insurance
Don’t take a gamble on your holiday travel plans and skip travel insurance, warned Godlin.
“Travel, medical or evacuation emergencies can cost thousands of dollars and cut plans short,” she said. “Travel insurance can protect your investment, and fees are usually just a small percentage of your vacation budget.”
8. Use Your Smartphone
“Let your smartphone save you money,” said Nowak. “Travel sites like Travelocity are offering special mobile-only deals. Downloading and installing the app makes you eligible for deals — especially on hotels — that aren’t available to customers not using the mobile app.”
Using a mobile app can also help you make changes to your trip itinerary quickly and efficiently.
9. Use Cash-Back Shopping Sites
Make full use of travel sites and shopping sites that offer any type of cash-back rewards program or incentive. When you’re spending hundreds on travel this holiday season, the rewards can really add up.
“I got a nice payout of just over $250 from my vacation to Hawaii over the summer using Splender," said Warren.
10. Be Flexible
“Many people have a particular time and place they travel for the holidays to visit family and friends,” said Rosemarie Clancy of RewardExpert.com. “If you are flexible on either of those points, you may be able to find some great last-minute deals using miles. As ticket prices drop when the season closes in, award seat availability will open up. That will leave you more money for holiday shopping.”
11. Book Strategically
Tom Spagnola, SVP of Supplier Relations at CheapOair.com, said, “Travelers should search for flights on a Monday or Tuesday morning, after the airlines have processed demand for flights over the weekend to yield the best savings."
And when you’re looking for the cheapest day of the week to book a hotel, make it a Tuesday, recommended Patel and Chaddah.
12. Double Dip for Discounts
Don’t be afraid to use your rewards credit cards on top of coupons and special offers or in conjunction with cashing in your airline rewards points, said Warren.
“Cash-back sites like Splender, where consumers can compare different offers and discounts from many of the top travel websites, can defray travel costs by returning a percentage of a travel purchase to consumers," added Warren.
13. Pack Light
Don’t let all those Christmas and holiday gifts weigh down your suitcases — or else you'll be paying for overweight baggage fees. Godlin recommended mailing gifts and other items to your family ahead of time to avoid paying for checked luggage altogether. You could also ship items via UPS or USPS to your final destination.
14. Plan a Suite Stay
If you’re traveling with the family or a larger group, you might not have to pay extra for multiple, adjoining rooms.
“Consider reserving a suite for your stay," said Patel and Chaddah. “This will be more affordable than separate rooms and often gives the option of an in-suite kitchen where you can prepare your own food for even more savings.”
15. Don’t Pack Wrapped Gifts
You might be throwing away money — and a few hours of effort — by wrapping your gifts before packing them in your suitcase. If security decides to investigate the gifts in your luggage, they will have to unwrap everything.
“Plan on buying gift wrap when you arrive at your destination — or even easier, order your gifts online — purchase the gift wrap option, and have the gifts delivered to your destination,” recommended Nowak.
16. Make a Grand Escape
If you can break away from any obligatory trips this holiday season, consider using your travel money for an overseas escape where flight and hotel prices are more affordable during the winter months.
“You can escape the winter blues and fly on an award ticket this holiday season," said Clancy. "Better to have a frozen cocktail in the Caribbean, than freezing back home. Or, go exotic. New Year’s Eve in Thailand, anyone?”
17. Fly During Off-Peak Hours
You might end up being the Grinch for a few hours for a 5 a.m. flight, but that extra effort will pay off.
“The best times of day to catch a plane are between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m., or after 8 p.m.,” said Warren. “Selecting flights at off-peak hours will definitely deliver big cost savings.”
18. Take Advantage of Price Guarantees
When you’re booking holiday travel through third-party travel sites and booking engines, keep an eye out for price-matching options and price guarantees.
“If you’re worried about prices going down after you’ve booked, check out which booking sites offer best price guarantees," recommended Godlin. Many sites are working hard to stay competitive during the busy travel season and will happily extend a guarantee to secure the booking.
19. Skip the Cab Line
“With long cab rides and holiday traffic, the public transit option is often both faster and cheaper than a cab," said Nowak. “Before you head off on your trip, a quick internet search to find public transportation options at your destination airport can save you both time and money. Using Google Maps and its ‘Transit’ option, just type in your airport code as your original and then your destination.” This will give you the full route and tell you what your transit options are.
20. Bring Your Own Snacks
Whether you’re traveling with kids, it’s always a good idea to have some snacks on hand so you can avoid long lines — and high prices — at the airport convenience store or restaurants.
“Eating at an airport or getting food at a gas station can add up quickly,” said Godlin. “To save money, pack some light snacks.”