11 Ways to Save Money on Holiday Travel

By Miranda Marquit. Last updated 9 July 2014. 2 comments

The holiday season isn’t just about shopping and gifts; a great deal of travel also takes place during this time of year. Unfortunately, holiday travel can get expensive fast—faster than the wrapping paper flies off those gifts. These 11 tips will help you keep your travel spending under control. (See also: 7 Ways to Get the Best Fall and Holiday Travel Deals)

1. Plan Ahead

One of the best things you can do to save money on holiday travel is to plan ahead. The earlier you book your travel, from airfare to hotels, the easier it is to find good deals. Plus, booking earlier can save you money.

In general, your best prices on airfare come when you book three weeks before the plane leaves for domestic flights. For international flights, consider booking about 30 days in advance.

While there are last-minute deals that can save you money, you can’t assume that things will always work—especially during the holidays when there is more travel happening. In fact, many experts point out that you should book travel between one month and three months out for high-traffic holidays. Plan ahead, so you have more opportunities to find the best deals, and so that you know what you will be doing.

2. Book Your Air Travel on Cheaper Days

Whenever you travel by air, some days are cheaper than others. Travel on Tuesdays and Wednesdays often costs less than travel on Fridays and Sundays.

During the holidays, though, it’s not just about a specific day of the week. You also need to consider the days surrounding the holiday. Days immediately before and after a holiday can be expensive.

One of the best ways to save is to actually plan your air travel on the day of the holiday. If you can adjust your plans so that you travel on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day, you might be able to find an even better deal.

3. Consider Traveling Overnight

Red-eye flights and overnight flights often cost less than those at more convenient times. Other alternatives include sleeper trains, as well as overnight ferries. Depending on where you are going, and the options for getting there, overnight travel can help you avoid a night in the hotel, as well as save you money on travel to your destination.

4. Use Public Transportation

Mass transit is much cheaper than taking a taxi. If you keep your packing small, you can take public transportation and save quite a bit. Many cities have free options, as well as low-cost options, including some with passes that allow unlimited travel.

Many cities have low-cost shuttles that run between the airport and other destinations. Your hotel might even offer a shuttle service. If you don’t have a friend or relative picking you up (the cheapest option), consider using the public options.

5. Look for Coupons and Deals

Whenever you travel, look for coupons and deals. Look for discounts in cities that you are visiting. Not only can you look for city-specific deals, but you can also find other coupons. Check online for restaurant coupons and deals if you know you will be dining out.

Many hotels also provide information about special offers in town, and you can find other deals with the help of the local Chamber of Commerce or the local Visitor’s Bureau. Once you know your itinerary, you can find deals and coupons that match—and save money.

6. Use Your Credit Card Rewards

You’ve already piled up reward points. It’s a great time to use them to save money on holiday travel. Redeem your reward points for travel, and you can save on airfare, hotel, and rental car costs.

Find out if you receive extra value for choosing a gift card instead of getting travel or cash back directly. In some cases, you can redeem a cash back reward for 10% or 20% more than the face value on a gift card. This can apply to travel gift cards and restaurant gift cards as well.

Before you decide to redeem your rewards, though, double check any restrictions and black out dates.

What type of credit card are you interested in?
How much do you spend per month?
Do you carry a balance?

7. Ask for Upgrades

You can’t get an upgrade if you don’t ask for it. You can save money on more comfortable travel with the help of upgrades. Even better, if you play your cards right, you can get free travel for later. If you are bumped from a flight (or volunteer to fly standby on an overbooked flight), you might even get a voucher for free travel later.

8. Fly Into an Alternative Airport

If you are flying, consider alternative airports. Traveling to a smaller airport in the same metro area is often cheaper. Similarly, if you’re traveling to an out-the-way place with fewer flights, consider flying into a nearby major destination instead to save on airfare. For example, when my family travels to visit my husband’s parents, flying into a major city like Boston or New York City costs a great deal less than flying into the closest airport.

Figure out how much it would cost to travel from the alternate airport to your destination. In many cases, the savings from the air travel will still outweigh those other costs.

9. Use Aggregators to Compare Prices

Travel aggregation sites can help you compare prices on all your travel, from airfare to train tickets to hotel stays. Some sites can even help you compare prices on cruises. Travel aggregators like Orbitz.com, Priceline.com, Expedia.com, and Travelocity.com can help you create packages as well. Another option is to use a site like Kayak.com that scours the deals from various travel sites so you can easily compare what’s available.

10. Sign Up for Fare Alerts

When you are ready to travel, sign up for fare alerts. If the cost drops, particularly for airfare, there are websites and smartphone apps that can let you know. Websites like Airfarewatchdog can provide you with regular updates on a route, as well as information on fare sales. Fare alert site FareCompare provides a smartphone app that can send alerts right to you, wherever you are.

When you have a little time, you can wait for prices to drop. Just don’t wait too long, or you could end up paying more.

Another option is to book travel with sites that have fare guarantees. Orbitz will automatically refund the difference if the price of your travel drops between the time you book and the time you travel. Expedia will refund the difference and give you a $50 travel coupon if you find a lower airfare within 24 hours of booking.

11. Bring Your Own Food

One of the best ways to save money is to avoid buying food while you travel. You can’t bring liquids with you on the airline, but you can bring sandwiches and other snacks.

When you’re on the road, you can buy food at local groceries to make your own meals. If you are staying in a hotel long-term, consider cooking your own food, especially if you have access to a range or a microwave.

If you do dine out, consider heading away from the sightseeing touristy areas You’re likely to find better—and better-priced—eateries

How are you planning to save on travel this holiday season?

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Michael

One thing I always recommend is to book your airline flight directly with the airline. Seen too many stories of things that go awry when it's done via a third party, especially if the airline ends up switching the plane (and seat assignments), moving the flight, or anything else. You can use the third party sites to find the best deals but once you see the comparison, I find you generally get the same price once you head over to the airlines website for reservations.

Guest's picture

In September I went to NYC with a friend and we booked tickets for our flight that were much cheaper because we had a few connecting flights. Never again will I do that. It ended up costing more because one of the flights was cancelled in the middle of it, so we were stranded in Minneapolis for a night. We lost a day of our vacation and everything. But travelling during the week is definitely a good way to save.