Budgeting Tips for Holiday Travel
This article was recently published in CommunityAmerica's "Let's Talk Money" section of the Kansas City Star.
The holidays are about creating memories and spending time with the family. Or maybe they’re about taking a much-needed vacation to a cabin in the mountains or laying on a beach under a palm tree. If you're not planning to be “home for the holidays,” here are secrets to saving money during one of the busiest travel seasons of the year.
Budgeting for Air Travel
Choose Your Travel Dates Wisely
Traditionally, the cheapest day to fly during the holidays is on the holidays themselves – Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. Even if you can catch an early flight and still make the family festivities that evening, it might be worth looking into with the savings.
If you can’t fly on the holidays, avoid the busiest travel days of the year. According to the TSA, the busiest travel days are usually the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Christmas airport crowds are a little tougher to predict since the holiday falls on a different day of the week each year. Generally, the busiest travel days before Christmas are December 21st – December 23rd. And for the return dates, the four days after Christmas are the busiest.
Research Affordable Airfare
The big question is when should you book your flight and when should you wait? For holiday travel, the earlier you can book, the better. There are several apps and online resources you can use to find the best deals.
Hopper is a mobile app that searches the best prices for airfare, hotels, homes and rental cars. When you put in your dates and destination, Hopper senses when prices may drop through algorithms and data points. Hopper does not include flight prices for Delta or Southwest Airlines so keep that in mind as you search. Google Flights is another tool to check for cheap flights.
Google Flights suggests when prices are historically lowest and when you should book for maximum savings. It will also suggest alternate dates you should book to save money. As with Hopper, Google Flights will not show you prices for Southwest Airlines.
Other Air Travel Tips:
Shipping luggage might be cheaper than checking your luggage through an airline. Lug Less is a site that will price out shipping luggage for you, usually for less than the price as checking a bag.
If your holiday travel plans are flexible, consider going somewhere that’s not in peak season. Skip the holidays in the Caribbean and opt for somewhere like an early ski weekend in Colorado during Thanksgiving.
Budgeting for Car Travel
If you’re traveling by car for the holiday, consider signing up for fuel rewards programs through many gas station chains that can save you up to a dollar per gallon.
GasBuddy is an app to find the cheapest gas near you. They also have a prepaid gas card that can save up to 40 cents per gallon. Google Maps and it’s safe to say you already have Google Maps on your phone. The app will help you find the nearest gas station and tell you which is cheapest in the area.
Budgeting for Hotel Savings
If you’re not crashing at your family’s house, you must pay to stay. Hotels tend to raise prices during the holiday season, as the demand for rooms increases. If you’ll need a hotel, it’s best to book early.
Hotels love when you book through the hotel itself. According to Travel and Leisure, a good rule of thumb is to browse websites like Expedia and Booking for prices but book directly through the hotel. It’s easy to book hotels on a desktop or smartphone but sometimes calling the front desk and asking for the “cheapest nonrefundable rate” can result in a cheaper room rate you won’t find online.
Another trick when booking hotels is to look for business hotels or hotels near convention centers. These hotels are usually less busy during the holidays and will drop their prices.
AirBnB and VRBO can be good options for a big group traveling together. Sharing a home with a group usually costs less than a hotel and you may have more space to spread out. You can also save money on meals if you have access to a kitchen and a nearby grocery store. Before booking, read the reviews. And it’s best to chat with the host beforehand to get a feel for the type of host they are and their property.
Wherever you may end up traveling this holiday season, make sure it’s affordable and stress-free. If you need more budget tips, CommunityAmerica’s Financial Well-Being Coaches offer free expert guidance on budgeting as well as improving your credit score and managing debt. Start your customized financial plan with a Well-Being Coach to help you achieve financial peace of mind.