The holidays are stressful enough, so why add more to it with your holiday travel? By planning ahead, you can save money and frustration. You’ll be happy to see your family and friends instead of resentful that you had to spend so much to get there that you can’t take a real vacation later.
If you’re worried about getting bumped, – and who doesn’t? - choose a flight early in the day. The first flights out have much lower chance of being delayed, plus many people don’t want to get up at the crack of dawn, or earlier, to go to the airport, making those flights a bit cheaper.
Travel On Less Desirable Days
Generally, booking your travel during the holiday season is not super affordable, but you can reduce the sting by flying the least busy days to get the best deals. When demand is low, so are fares. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays tend to be less expensive than other days, because the majority of travelers are doing so over the weekend. The airport is always packed on Thursdays and Fridays with people getting out of town and then on Sundays and Mondays coming back.
If your family does their celebration on Christmas Eve or not until Christmas afternoon, then traveling on Christmas may work perfectly for you. Everyone wants to be with their families then, so airfare can be super low.
Book as Far in Advance as Possible
Under normal circumstances, the sweet spot for getting flight deals on domestic flights is between three and five weeks, but for the holidays, you’ll want to book as soon as you find an airfare deal. The closer to the holiday you get, the more airfare will be. There are almost never any last-minute price drops for Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s Eve.
Use Your Airline Miles
If you’re doing it right, you’ve probably been racking up those airline miles every chance you get. You are, right? Well, now’s the time to cash them in. Again, the earlier you can book, the greater chance of getting a rewards seat, plus you can save the majority of your travel budget for later to go somewhere (more) fun.
Bring Just a Carry-On
Many airlines, especially so-called budget airlines, have upped their baggage fees. Do you really want to pay an extra $40 or more to bring your luggage along? You’re probably visiting your family, so they aren’t going to be bothered if you want to use their washing machine.
Pack light by choosing a mix and match wardrobe, where all your bottoms match all your tops, and try to keep your shoes to two pair. In the winter, you can easily wear a pair of boots and some fun flats with just about everything. Roll your clothing to save space and combat wrinkles. Think of it as a giant puzzle, using all available space, and you’ll be surprised by how much you can fit inside a traditional roller bag.
Pack Small Gifts
Packing light can be a challenge, but if you’re also bringing gifts along, consider small ones that are easily packable, like gift cards or jewelry. If you can’t be restricted by size, ship your gifts ahead, because you’ll save money mailing over baggage fees and there’s smaller chance of them getting lost.
If you choose to bring gifts with you in your carry-on, make sure they are unwrapped, as TSA needs to see what is inside your bag and will open any boxes that are closed if you are chosen for a random bag check. Purchase wrapping paper, bows or bags once you reach your destination, or slip the flat items in a pocket of your bag to eliminate wrinkles.
If you’re lucky to be close enough to your destination to drive there, make sure to get a tune-up on your car before embarking on your trip. A car in tip top shape will get better gas mileage and is less likely to break down. Use Metromile and other apps to find affordable gas along the way, pack a paper map for emergencies and have a list of all important phone numbers and addresses just in case.
Pack snacks and plan stops along the way, because getting out of the car and stretching out makes the trip more fun and snacks keep you from getting cranky and stopping for fast food.
Your holiday travels don’t have to break your bank. With a bit of forethought and planning you can save wherever possible, so the Season of Giving doesn’t turn into the Season of Giving the Airlines All Your Money.