Getting Home for the Holidays on a Budget
Planes, trains and automobiles – odds are, you’ll be spending time in one of these vessels during the holiday season. Long-distance travel jumps 54% this time of year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation.
This means an overall increase in fares, but fret not, whether you’re traveling within the state or across country, there are a few things you can do to minimize your holiday travel expenses. Here are a few tips to help avoid breaking the bank when you travel over the Holidays.
1. Cheap Flights
Have you ever watched the cost of flights fluctuate? One day the lowest round-trip fare is $400 and the next day the ticket prices have jumped. This is where doing your research can really pay off. Early booking has its advantages. According to CheapAir, the prime time to book your flight is 47 days in advance.
A good rule of thumb is to book early, as ticket prices generally rise with demand. If you’ve been monitoring ticket prices on multiple sites, remember to clear your browser data and cookies periodically so you won’t get served up dynamic pricing.
It’s also a good idea to make ride arrangements instead of driving yourself, because space is at a premium and prices are often inflated at long term parking lots around airports and train stations.
2. Save Money with Tuesday and Wednesday Flights
Typically, the cheapest flights days to fly are Tuesdays and Wednesdays. It might be inconvenient, but flying during off-peak hours is one way to save money. If you’re trying to cut down on cost, Independent Traveler says the best airline fares can be found between Monday afternoon and Thursday morning – Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the cheapest days overall.
If you’re worried about delays, fly in the morning. Afternoon and evening flights are delayed more often, while morning flights are 15% more likely to be on time. Remember to give yourself some wiggle room – flexibility is important when flying home for the holidays on a tight budget. While not everyone wants to travel with a tight schedule, flights departing two days prior to Christmas, as well as those departing on Christmas day had the best fares in 2014.
3. Shop Around
Keep an eye out for promotional sales, coupons and deals. Sites like Expedia, Priceline, and Kayak allow you to search for the lowest possible fares. Be mindful of cancellation policies in case you have to make any last minute changes to your itinerary.
Booking a flight during an airfare sale or using a coupon code could save you a considerable chunk of change. Keep your eyes open for airline frequent flyer program deals. Some airlines will offer double miles if you purchase during a special promotional period, and using your airline miles could reduce your ticket price significantly.
If you’re going to reserve a hotel room, consider booking your airfare and hotel together. Many of the top search sites will allow you to bundle flights and hotels together for a discount.
4. Driving Home for the Holidays
Choosing to drive your personal vehicle could save you the hassle of layovers and transfers that often accompany longer trips by plane or train. All things considered, there are a few trade-offs involved in driving during the holidays.
While you save yourself the trip to the airport, you might find yourself in gridlock with others who had the same idea. Depending on where you live, braving traffic during the holidays is not for the faint of heart. Cities like Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. are notorious for congestion and, according to Forbes, domestic travel increases by 23% during the holiday season, so getting out of town is that much harder.
Make sure that your vehicle is road-ready, especially if you own an older vehicle. Unexpected car trouble can be costly and towing your vehicle to a mechanic who you don’t know is never ideal. Take the time to perform some basic car maintenance first, because a little preventative car care could save you a lot money and headaches down the road.
Taking a train might be a practical alternative to driving depending on the convenience of station locations. Amtrak offers discounts for military personnel and family, children and seniors. There are also multi-ticket ride discounts and saver fares available.
5. Carry On Only
Most airlines charge for checked baggage so try to pack only a carry-on. Use priority shipping and mail your gifts home ahead of time – the United States Post Office recommends getting your packages out no later than December 15 to ensure gifts arrive before the holiday. This way you won’t have to lug them around the airport or pay any additional fees to transport extra baggage.
Southwest Airlines is one exception; they allow two checked bags under 50 pounds per customer. Research airline baggage policies beforehand and also make sure that your carry-on is within stated size regulations.
6. Snack Time
In addition to charging for luggage, many airlines have done away with free in-flight meals. Food is available in most airports and costs a lot, too. Plan accordingly: eat beforehand and pack snacks – sandwiches, trail mix, granola – to tide yourself over until you land. Food costs can add up quickly when you’re on the go, but remember, airport regulations won’t allow you to bring beverages through security checks. The good news is that most airlines still provide free in-flight beverage service, so you won’t be gasping for water after you finish your granola bar!
Once you’ve arrived at your destination, take a load off and relax. Holiday travel may be stressful, but you don’t have to break the bank to get home to see family and friends. Spending time with your loved ones is priceless. Have a safe and happy holiday season.