10 Money-Saving Strategies for Holiday Travel

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michaeljung / Shutterstock.com

Planning to travel this holiday season? The good news is there are plenty of ways to save money on each phase of holiday travel, from planning for your trip to actually traveling.

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Whether you plan to travel solo or with family, here’s how you can lessen the economic burden of traveling around the holidays.

What Can You Get for Free?

Before booking travel and lodging or making lists of what you need to pack, Keri Baugh, travel writer at Bon Voyage With Kids, recommends reviewing everything you can get for free first.

Review your credit card reward points and see whether these can be cashed in for gift cards to use toward travel, such as restaurant or gas station gift cards. Those with loyalty programs for a hotel or airline may check to see whether they can use these for hotel stays or flights.

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If your holiday plans include flying, you also can use your points toward airlines. Baugh uses the example of her mother-in-law recently cashing in her airline points for a first-class ticket to visit Baugh’s family. The entire ticket cost? Only $7, thanks to using these points.

Other freebies you might have are leftover flight vouchers from COVID-19 cancellations. Jessica Schmit, owner of Uprooted Traveler, had a dozen canceled trips between 2020 and 2021. Several airlines issued vouchers that last until Dec. 31, 2022. Check to see whether you have any of these vouchers and whether you can use their value before they expire.

Use Search Engines To Book Flight Travel

Search engines can help save money on flight costs. For college students, Baugh recommends CheapOair and Kayak because they offer discounted fares for students. Travelers also can look at fares available at Scott’s Cheap Flights and Google Flights.

With Google Flights, you can turn on price alerts. This means you will get an email if the price of the flight goes up or down. Google Flights also allows you to check the price graph and date grid for additional guidance on the cheapest times to fly for your trip dates. Travelers with some flexibility in their dates can enter a few dates and determine which are the cheapest.

Those planning to fly for the holidays will need to book their flights as early as possible to save money. The closer to your travel dates, the more expensive the flight will be. Baugh recommends booking before the end of October for the best price.

If you have flexibility, check flight costs for multiple airports. “If you have two airports in your area,” Baugh said, “see if one of them can get you a cheaper flight, even if you have to connect.”

Some budget airlines fly to smaller airports, and this can be a way to save money.

Consider Visiting a Nontraditional Holiday Destination

For the holidays, some travelers think of destination spots like New York City or ski resorts. However, these destinations are often crowded with tourists and expensive, especially for those traveling with families or in large groups. Candice Criscione, founder of Mom In Italy, recommends looking into visiting and staying at nontraditional holiday options.

“Look into visiting your state’s capital city or somewhere less-visited during the holidays, like New Orleans,” Criscione said. “These alternate destinations often have accommodation deals like a free extra night, or children stay free, or a dinner at the hotel’s restaurant is included in the stay.”

Driving? Use Your Own Car

Are you driving instead of flying this holiday season? Baugh recommends using your own car instead of renting a vehicle for a road trip.

“Though gas is expensive,” Baugh said, “it will be less than the cost of the flight, especially if the destination is within a five- to six-hour drive.”

Download Gas and Navigation Apps

Consider downloading gas apps, like Gas Buddy, to find gas stations and their prices in your area or along your route. This ensures travelers stop at the most affordable gas station.

Drivers also may download apps such as Waze or Road Trippers to avoid toll roads and save additional money.

Look for a Farmer’s Fridge at Airports

One of the most popular savings tips for travel is to pack plenty of snacks — and water, if you plan to travel by car. This ensures that you will avoid overspending at airport terminals or gas stations. For those traveling by plane, bring empty water bottles to fill up at the airport.

Occasionally, you might find yourself hungry at an airport. Where can you get a good meal to satisfy your cravings without breaking the bank?

Kristi Ruth, RD and founder of Carrots & Cookies, said to keep an eye out for a Farmer’s Fridge at airports. This is a vending machine that can be found in most airport terminals and offers a variety of fresh food options at reasonable prices.

Pack Light When Flying

“If you fly, try to minimize bags or use carry-ons instead of checking bags, to save on bag fees,” Baugh said.

Book Hotels In Advance

When it comes to hotels, booking ahead of time will help you find the cheapest options. Sites like Booking.com can help you find great hotels at discounts. Use any points you may have through credit cards to get free hotel stays. Many reward programs allow for a free extra night if you book a longer stay, too.

Invest In Travel Insurance

Criscione said some airlines aren’t as generous as they used to be when travel is delayed — and the extra costs can add up.

Investing in travel insurance means you’ll be able to protect against any financial losses, such as delayed luggage, last-minute cancellations or injury or illness on your trip.

Ship Holiday Gifts To Family

If you’re visiting family members who appreciate opening actual presents, you may be struggling to figure out how to pack them in your car or take the gifts along on a flight.

Rather than spend on an additional bag to transport the gifts, Ruth said to consider shipping the presents directly to family. Give them a heads-up you are doing this and let them know when to expect the packages so they won’t open them.

“Gift bags and tissue paper pack well, so you can buy these ahead of time and place them in the bottom of your luggage, which will make for easy wrapping when you arrive,” Ruth said. “And if the family insists on you opening actual presents while there, you can pack your gifts up in a sturdy cardboard box and check it in as luggage. This way, you don’t have to pay for extra luggage for both flights.”

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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: 10 Money-Saving Strategies for Holiday Travel