The holiday season has some of the busiest travel days of the year — typically the days closest to Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s are some of most expensive days to travel. Due to the sheer volume of travelers during the holiday season, prices for flights, hotels and car rentals are at a premium. But you don’t have to settle for the inflation in prices if you’re traveling for the holidays.
Here are 13 tips to beat the higher travel rates if you’re thinking of traveling last-minute.
1. Shop Low-Demand Flights
Thomas Spagnola, senior vice president of supplier relations at Fareportal, which owns CheapOair, recommends that travelers be on the lookout for flights that might be in lower demand.
“Without question it can mean a tremendous amount of savings if a customer is able to take advantage of the flights where the airline needs more seats to fill,” Spagnola said.
Spagnola suggests looking for flights for the middle of the week (Tuesday through Thursday), red-eye flights, and connecting flights to avoid the convenience premium.
2. Book on Mondays or Tuesday Mornings
Mondays and Tuesday mornings are the best times to shop for a flight, according to Spagnola. This is just after the airlines have processed demand for flights over the weekend — when most travelers are booking flights.
3. Consider an Ultra-Low Cost Carrier
ULCCs like Spirit Airlines, Frontier Airlines and Allegiant Air often offer cheaper airfare than most other airlines. But don’t forget to factor in fees and compare prices. These lower airline prices can also come with added fees for baggage, seat reservations and even carry-on luggage. Compare the full price, including extra fees, against conventional airlines to ensure you’re paying the lowest price.
4. Avoid Expensive Business Routes
“Leisure markets are a lot cheaper than business markets” when it comes to airfare, Spagnola said.
Data from the airfare price comparison website Skyscanner proves this point: The most expensive routes are more likely to be to major business hubs like New York City and Washington, D.C., where the average round-trip ticket costs more than $390. On the other hand, routes from vacation spots like Las Vegas and Florida are among some of the cheapest.
5. Fly Into a Smaller Airport
If you are flying from one major city to another, Spagnola said that flying from nearby airports for these flights can have a dramatic price difference. Look for smaller municipal airports near your destination for savings. Just double-check a map to make sure the airport is a reasonably close drive to your final destination.
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6. Travel by Car
Airfare just won’t be in everyone’s budget this holiday season. If you’re paying for more than two travelers, have a destination within 500 driving miles or simply can’t afford an airplane ticket, taking an alternate form of transportation could be a more economical choice this holiday season.
Compared with last year’s prices, the national average price of gas today is still relatively low at $2.55.
7. Take a Train
Although Amtrak prices might not be cheap, it does offer a better deal than airlines do during the holiday season, so long as time isn’t of the essence.
“Consider the train,” said Eileen Gunn, founder of family travel site FamiliesGo! “Amtrak’s prices are more transparent and less elastic so you have less of a holiday markup.” She also recommends looking at early morning or evening travel, as these off hours can carry cheaper pricing.
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8. Catch a Bus
Although a bus ticket will see the same price increases on peak holiday travel as other amenities, even with markups travelers can probably keep round-trip costs under $100 per person.
Coach bus lines such as Megabus and BoltBus have been helping to make this form of travel both cost-effective and convenient for travelers. Megabus often touts its “fares as low as $1” and free WiFi onboard, and BoltBus offers a rewards program for frequent travelers as well as bigger seats and WiFi. Other bus companies to try include: Vamoose, Tripper Bus, Greyhound and RedCoach.
The major drawback is that bus routes are much more limited than airline routes and might not travel to your desired destination. Comparing prices between bus lines is also trickier, but the steep savings are worth it.
9. Use Price Comparison Sites
Although you might have a go-to travel site to book your airfare, such as Expedia, it pays to shop around for better options. Sites like Google Flights and Travelocity can help you find the cheapest flight available during the time you might be looking to travel. For example, Google Flights can give you a calendar view of airline prices for the month and when prices will drop for each month and throughout the year.
10. Speak With a Travel Agent
Sometimes, searching for the best deal on your own can be a tiring and difficult task. But you might have better luck scoring a good deal if you talk to a travel agent. Although it is generally better to book a trip in advance, a travel agent can help you locate the best flights available at any time, even last minute. With their access to inside information about airline rates and potential deals, travel agents can save you time and money.
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11. Use Your Discounts
You might be able to shave some extra money off your flight by asking if the airline has any discounts available. In some cases, airlines will give a discount to active members of the military, college students and seniors over 65. For example, Southwest Airlines might offer a discount for travelers 65 and over at certain times of the year. In addition, all seniors’ tickets for Southwest are refundable.
12. Rent a Home
Elizabeth Avery, the founder of Solo Trekker 4 U, said that renting a home or apartment might be cheaper than a hotel stay. “This is the ideal time to consider apartment and house swaps or rentals while many residents are themselves looking to visit family or see new destinations.”
You can even rent out your own home or apartment to offset your lodging costs. To find home rentals or rent your home, try Airbnb, HomeAway, or VacationHomeRentals. Sites such as Home Exchange allow you to house swap with others — either simultaneously or not — at only the cost of $150 per year, no other money exchanged.
13. Don't Be Afraid to Ask for a Lower Price
When considering renting a home for the holidays, you can also negotiate with property owners — though it’s important to be courteous and polite. Gilmore suggests an approach along the lines of, “I would love to spend the holiday with my family at your home, but it’s a little more than we were hoping to spend.” Stays longer than a weekend can also give you a better leverage to negotiate a better rate.
14. Do Your Research
There are few things you can do to get good deals on home rentals, according to Tom Gilmore, founder of VacationHomeRentals. He recommends inquiring on multiple rentals at once, to ensure you get the dates you want.
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Taylor Bell contributed to the reporting for this article.