6 Ways to Get College Kids Home for the Holidays for Cheap


Kid off to college this year? You're already feeling the pinch on your budget as he or she starts their (fingers crossed) four-year career, but there are perhaps a few expenses you may have overlooked during all the hustle and bustle — like how your little smarty pants will get home during breaks and holidays. To keep these travel costs manageable, consider these inexpensive ways.

1. Cash in Miles for Free Flights

In all the years you've been saving those airlines miles for the vacation of a lifetime, I bet you never thought you'd have to compromise them by bringing your kid back and forth from college for holiday breaks. Yeah, it sucks, but when they graduate and land that high-paying job, they'll totally pay you back… right?

While you hold your breath on that prospect, consider consulting RewardExpert, which helps travelers create easy-to-follow strategies by developing customized points earning plans and maximizing frequent flyer rewards. The service makes it easy to earn free tickets in just a few months, or help you make the most of what you already have.

2. Carpool With Someone Headed the Same Direction

I often carpooled with friends to and from college who lived at least somewhat close to my home. I'd offer gas money for the ride, and my parents would pick me up from their homes so they didn't have to go out of their way to drop me off at mine. Your kids can do the same thing the old-fashioned way by asking their friends for a ride, or — if they don't have any friends who live within driving distance of where you're from — suggest that they post an ad on Craigslist or a community or school message board looking for a driver.

Alas, if that's too 20th century for them, there's College Carpool, one of a handful of services that allow students to connect with others driving the same direction through private pages for each college. Through forums, students can find available rides, or proactively request one.

3. Enroll in a Car Share

Does your kid prefer to take the wheel, but they don't have a car of their own on campus? Nowadays they can sign up for car-sharing services, which help eliminate the issue of not being able to rent a car from traditional services (like Alamo) that usually require drivers to be at least 25 years old. Car-sharing services like Zipcar and Enterprise CarShare are available to university students, and monthly fees are low. Once registered, students can reserve a car whenever they need one. This is a helpful convenience especially around the holidays when the rest of the family is busy with their own day-to-day concerns.

4. Hop on the Bus

I never took the bus home from college — that eight-hour ride didn't much appeal to me, plus I had awesome friends who didn't mind giving me a lift — but when I moved to Manhattan without a car in my mid-20s, I often hopped on a Greyhound to get back to my hometown of Baltimore. It was convenient, fast, and, most importantly, cheap.

Thus, if you live a reasonable distance from child's university and they don't mind tight quarters, this may be a good option for you and your family. It's actually a rather relaxing ride once you get situated; most modern bus services, including BoltBus and Megabus, feature free WI-FI, power outlets, and even reclining seats. Smaller-scale regional buses, like Short Line, also offer student discounts.

5. Travel by Train

If booking your kid a bus ticket isn't an option, perhaps riding the friendly rails is a more accommodating compromise. Amtrak provides service from 500 destinations in 46 states, and it offers a 15% student discount along with the opportunity to earn points toward free travel. Amtrak is the only nationwide rail-service, which means you don't have any other options for train travel, unless you can work your regional lines to your advantage if they exist.

6. Get Creative

You don't always have to choose one option over another. Sometimes you can use a few different methods — like a bus to a train or a train to a plane, for instance. Look for the best deals among the types of transportation available to you and plan your student's trip home accordingly. It may take some time to plan and settle on the most efficient and cost-effective method, but it's worth it — especially when you consider how often you may have to do this over and over again in the next four (or five or six) years.

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