Yes, I know! We've been avoiding it all year. But the holiday travel season is finally upon us, and social obligations force us to visit our relatives and in-laws for the reluctant wearing of matching fluffy sweaters and other awkward holiday traditions. I'm sorry. All you want to do this winter is lounge about in your pajamas in the comfort of your own home, watch cartoons, and drink too-strong eggnog. But tradition is tradition, and believe me, there's no way you're getting out of the annual two-hour slideshow of Aunt Edna's bird-watching trips!

Traveling during the holidays is already stressful for many, and the added expense of airfare doesn't help.

Here are five tips that can help maximize your dollar when buying plane tickets:

Have Fare Alerts Delivered to your Inbox

Instead of searching for plane ticket fares every day, use fare alerts to do the heavy lifting for you. Kayak's price alert feature and Orbitz's DealDetector will email you whenever ticket prices go down. If you're in need of a more customizable alert system, set up multiple alerts on Airfare Watchdog and you can also sign up for Priceline deal alerts.

Use a Fare Calendar

If your travel schedule has some leeway, consider searching for tickets with a fare calendar, such as ITA Software's ever-useful Matrix Airfare search. Simply put your departure city and the destination in the appropriate boxes, input the earliest date you'll be available to fly, put in the length of your stay, and click "Search." You'll be treated with a calendar of fares and their prices, allowing you pick the cheapest dates to fly.

Take Red-Eye and Early Morning Flights

If you and your family are willing, consider taking a red-eye or early morning flight. These flights are generally cheaper than the daytime or afternoon fares and are often below capacity, which gives you more elbow room.

Sign Up for Special Deals and Offers

Many airlines have weekly e-mail newsletters that advertise specials and last-minute fare discounts. Continental Airlines, jetBlue, and Southwest Airlines are three airlines that offer such newsletters.

Consolidate your Frequent-Flyer Miles

If you fly often throughout the year, consider joining a frequent-flyer points trading site such as Points.com. Swapping your airline miles for points in another program can be a good way to consolidate your mileage, giving you a bigger balance to use on holiday fares.

This has been a guest post by Jacob from Honolulu, HI
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