Holiday travel happens!
Whether you’re flying to the middle of nowhere to see family or you’re escaping the middle of nowhere to visit Italy, most of us have to travel during the holidays at some point.
Here are a few ways to do holiday travel on a budget:
1. Use Skyscanner to find cheap airlines, hotels and car rentals.
Input your travel dates on Skyscanner and you can see all fares available.
Once you find out the cheapest option, book through that site directly and set price alerts so you can find out if there’s a price drop.
You can’t book through Skyscanner, which makes it different than Expedia or Travelocity.
2. Consider shipping your luggage instead of checking it.
Inside the U.S., bringing a third bag under 50 lbs. on Delta Airlines can run you $150 to check, and any additional bags can cost $200 each.
But to ship a 51-lb. bag UPS Ground from Seattle to Chicago, for example, you’d only spend $85.03.
3. Use Yapta to get a price adjustment on airfare you’ve booked.
When Yapta finds a price drop on your booked airfare, they request a refund on your behalf. These are the eligible airlines:
- Alaska (refund for any price drop)
- Virgin America (refund for drops over $75)
- JetBlue (refund for drops over $75)
- Hawaiian (refund for drops over $100)
- American (refund for drops over $200)
- Delta (refund for drops over $200)
- United (refund for drops over $200)
4. Plan to fly the morning of the holiday to save up to 54%.
Granted, this is nobody’s first choice. But it’s a significant enough difference in price that it may be worth it.
When I looked up a flight from Boise to Houston departing on Dec. 21 and returning Dec. 27, all the cheapest options are already sold out. I’d end up paying $1,200 per ticket.
But when I input a Christmas morning departing date and a Dec. 31 return (the same amount of days), I can score a cheaper flight — only $550 per ticket.
5. Book travel at least 21 days before you depart.
Airlines and hotels have learned that last-minute business trips are super inflexible, and as such, the closer you get to your departure date, the more expensive your flight or hotel can be. (Even if you’re not traveling for business.)
So, outsmart them all by buying your airfare, hotel and rental car at least three weeks before you travel.
6. Use Google Flights to book 2 one-way tickets instead of 1 round trip.
Sometimes if you book two separate one-way tickets, you can get cheaper travel than booking a round trip ticket. The easiest way to compare is to use Google Flights.
Using the same travel dates, I compared flying from Boise to Orlando and back using both Delta and Southwest. And then mixing and matching cheapest flights to create separate one-way scenarios.
Boise to Orlando to Boise on Southwest: $368
Boise to Orlando to Boise on Delta: $399
Boise to Orlando on Delta: $177 ($203 on Southwest)
Orlando to Boise on Southwest: $166 ($212 on Delta)
7. Invest in a pocketed fishing vest and wear some of your luggage.
This is actually a thing in Europe and there are kickstarters for “luggage trench coats.”
While there aren’t any of those available in the U.S. right now, you can always make your own — buy a fishing or hunting vest with pockets and take turns with your partner wearing it to avoid paying extra luggage fees.
8. Rent an Airbnb instead of staying in a hotel and cook your own food.
It’s cheaper unless you’re tent camping, staying in a Motel 6 or bunking up with family.
Book early so you can have the widest selection at the lowest possible price.
9. Consider using Uber instead of renting a car.
This is another one you’ll need to price out, but if you know you’ll be going from the airport to only one or two locations during your stay, chances are really good that Uber is cheaper than paying for a rental car.
10. Travel during Thanksgiving instead of Christmas.
If you want to travel — even internationally — for the holidays, do it over Thanksgiving versus Christmas.
For example, Los Angeles to Paris on United Airlines can run the same price (round trip) as Los Angeles to Hawaii during Thanksgiving. Both are around $900.
But during Christmas, Los Angeles to Hawaii spikes to $1,210 round trip and Los Angeles to Paris skyrockets to $2,537 round trip.
11. Book with a hotel directly (over the phone).
If you’re booking hotels late in the game or you’re just unsatisfied with prices you see, call the hotel directly and ask a manager for the very best rate they can offer.
It can be a shot in the dark, but it’s worth doing before you book through Expedia, for example. This works best if your travel dates are a little flexible.