The holidays mean one thing for many families: travel. The American Automobile Association reports more than 107 million Americans planned holiday travel in 2017 alone. A heavy travel period leads to both congestion and more competition.
Beyond the crowds, this leads to a major issue for many families: keeping costs within budget. Traveling as a family, especially during the holiday season can be quite expensive, but there are ways to save money. If you’re planning to travel this holiday season, here are a few simple ways you can save money and without sacrificing fun.
Know when to travel
Many families must fly to their chosen destination during the holiday season. This can be an expensive proposition, especially if you don’t do your due diligence when buying your plane tickets. The cost of airfare can vary widely based on the day you travel. If you have flexibility, it pays to be willing to fly when flights are cheaper.
“When it comes to holiday travel, most people are on the same schedule, so whenever possible travel mid-week — and consider traveling on the holiday itself when fares typically drop since most people want to be at their destination by the holiday,” says Sara Skirboll, shopping and trends expert for Retailmenot. “Typically, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the cheapest days to fly.” This may be a little more difficult with Christmas falling on a Tuesday in 2018, so be mindful of that when you travel.
When you buy tickets can also impact cost. Monday through Thursday tend to provide cheaper options, so be price-aware during the beginning of the week.
Avoid the fees
Travel at any point of the year can involve unexpected fees. This can be even worse during the holidays if traveling with your entire family or dealing with already-expensive travel costs. If you’re not mindful, travel fees can make an affordable trip bust your budget.
Airlines are a common culprit of such fees. “You want to take a close look at the airline and any hidden fees,” Skirboll says. “Are they charging you for every single bag? Will they charge you extra to pick a seat? What is the cancellation policy (winter weather can be unpredictable!)? How much is Wi-Fi?”
Airlines aren’t the only culprit. Below are common travel fees, and what you can do to avoid them:
- Collision damage and theft: Rental car companies often try to get you to agree to this fee. Many credit cards offer this protection, making this expense unnecessary.
- Wi-fi: Many hotel chains offer wi-fi, but only if you’re a member of their loyalty program. If they offer a free loyalty program, simply sign up for it to get free wi-fi.
- Resort fees: Depending on your destination, you may find many hotels charge a resort fee. Find out what the fee covers and if you have no need for the service, find another hotel or rent a house, which can save more if you can prepare food at the rental.
Get rebates on your flights
Airfare frequently changes in price. If you bought your ticket months ago, the same tickets may be cheaper, or there may be a cheaper flight available. Many airlines charge a fee to change tickets, but in some cases, the price difference may outweigh the change fee. Just be aware many airlines only honor this if you bought the ticket directly from them.
Some airlines, such as Southwest, don’t charge a change fee. In fact, Southwest even allows you to call in to request a refund in cash or miles when your itinerary becomes cheaper.
Following up on airfare decreases may take a little effort, but the savings could be well worth the time.
Don’t take gifts with you
If you’re traveling to visit friends or family that often means bringing gifts. Unfortunately, this often results in more costs as many carriers charge you per bag. You also can’t wrap the gifts before air travel, as TSA will unwrap them for security screening.
Thankfully, there are several ways around this situation. “In the past, if you’ve traveled with your holiday gifts, it counts as additional checked luggage. Save the hassle and the baggage fees by ordering your gifts online and having them delivered to somewhere near your destination,” says Jacob Lunduski, financial industry trends analyst with Credit Card Insider.
This may take away from the fun of delivering gifts yourself, but it can save money. Many hotels will let you have items delivered, or you can also have them delivered to family in the area. You can even ship gifts yourself via the U.S. Postal Service, UPS or FedEx and save money compared with paying for baggage fees.
Use your phone
Likely one of the best ways to save on holiday travel is your smartphone. There are many apps that let you compare prices, watch for travel deals, or buy experiences at your chosen destination.
Lunduski recommends watching for pricing errors to maximize savings, “Use apps or websites that help monitor deals and errors. Many use the app Hopper or the website Secret Flying. These websites scan all the flight pricing data continuously and find errors or deals. Set a destination that you want to go to, and it will send you updates on what to buy.”
Other apps that might help reduce your travel costs this holiday season are:
- Trail Wallet
Find an app or two you like and use it to help plan your trip. Use any savings to help you do more on your trip, or bank the savings for your next trip.
Travel during the holidays doesn’t have to be stressful. Give yourself enough time to plan your trip, and you’ll be surprised by how much you can save.