Easy Ways to Save Big on Holiday Travel Expenses

Living & Spending
on October 13, 2014
How to Save on Holiday Travel Expenses

On average, Americans take 54 percent more long-distance trips during the Christmas and New Year’s Holiday than any other time of the year, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Dates surrounding Thanksgiving aren’t far behind, with 23 percent more long-distance trips than the average. It’s no wonder it can feel like the entire nation congregates at airports during the holidays.

With demand so high for travel offerings, prices tend to soar. And to make matters worse, there are usually blackout dates on which you can’t claim those much-coveted travel rewards points or take advantage of special promotions.

So for now, while the holidays are still several weeks away, it might feel like you have plenty of time to explore your options. But in fact, if you want to stretch that travel budget, you need to start getting busy locking down your arrangements—right now.

Booking Early

It may be possible for you to score last-minute deals at other times of the year, but this isn’t the time for holding out. Travel fares will most likely only go up as the holidays get nearer and nearer. Millions of people want to book that airfare, so snag your seats before it’s too late.

If you’re worried about the possibility of price drops, buy your ticket directly from the airline and monitor the price using Yapta. This free online tool, which is also available as a smartphone app, sends you a notification whenever there’s a price drop. Depending on the airline, you may then be able to ask for a refund.

Alaska Airlines and AirTran Airways offer refunds for all price drops, no matter how small they are. Other airlines generally will only give you refunds for price drops of certain amounts as set by the airlines. Hawaiian Airlines, for example, only offers refunds if the price drops by at least $100 per ticket.


Instead of waiting for the prices to change, consider what you’re willing to compromise to get cheaper airfares.

For example, if you’re willing to fly out of a smaller airport, you may be able to score better deals. Choosing flights with connections instead of direct flights may also help you save, but remember that this means there will be a higher chance of delays. It’s not the most convenient way to travel, but it may be worth a try if you’ve spent all your money on presents.

Travel Dates

Busy travel days are horrible. The prices are exorbitant. The planes are packed, and the airports are chaotic.

The peak travel dates during the holidays are: Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, the four days before Christmas Eve, and the days between Christmas and New Year’s.

In other words, the worst days to travel are also the most convenient days to travel.

If you don’t mind missing out on some parts of the celebration, consider flying on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, or Christmas. For obvious reasons, these days are pretty quiet and the airfares for flights on these dates are usually much cheaper.

Choosing flights that depart very early or very late in the day may also get you better deals.

How to Save Money on Holiday Travel


Flight Fees

When booking your flight, pay attention to the extra fees. If you’re not careful, these fees can negate all the savings you might accrue from making (sometimes major) travel compromises.

In particular, note how many bags you’ll take and how much they weigh. It may be cheaper for you to choose a more expensive flight if the airline’s baggage allowance policies fit your needs better.

To save on baggage fees, bring only a carry-on if you can. Too many checked bags have been lost in the holiday shuffle, so your stuff will be safer in a carry-on anyway. And save space by not wrapping your gifts until you’ve arrived at your destination, which may also get you through security checkpoints faster.

Other Transportation Options

You can expect a big crowd even outside the airport if you choose to travel during peak travel times. Leave home early so you won’t miss your flight, in case of traffic jams or likely delays at security checkpoints.

If possible, take public transport to the airport because the holiday price hikes may apply to airport parking too. Additionally, if you take the train, you probably won’t have to be stuck in traffic.

Also consider not flying at all and going with another inter-city transportation option instead. By taking buses or trains, you could save some serious cash. Amtrak fares are cheaper by 55 to 73 percent compared to airfares, according to a study by Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development. Inter-city bus fares are even cheaper, at 50 to 55 percent lower than Amtrak fares.

Don’t miss my previous installments on Transportation Sharing and How to Find the Cheapest Travel Accommodation for even more ways to save on travel expenses!

Interested in more ways to save money and travel cheaply? Visit NomadWallet.com and follow along as Deia B offers regular advice and resources for ways to do just that.

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