23 Clever Ways To Save Money & Time On Holiday Travel

‘Tis this season for long lines at the baggage claim, crowded airports and bustling hotel lobbies. And because of the mix of wintry weather and increased number of people headed over the river and through the woods to grandma’s house, holiday travel is almost certainly a harried event. According to a recent survey, 20% of holiday flights taking off from the 25 busiest airports were delayed or cancelled in the past five years.

While you can’t do much about airlines overbooking flights or Mother Nature stirring up a holiday Nor’easter, you can keep these tips in mind to trim the cost of your holly-day travel.

1. Head To The Warehouse

HolidayTravel Tips

Membership to Costco, BJ’s or Sam’s Club is good for more than jumbo jars of pickles and enough toilet paper for a small army. Your membership card may allow you to book travel through the warehouse’s travel portals that feature member-only discounts on airfare, lodging and rental cars, cruises and activities. For instance, Costco often features deals for up to 20% off rooms at Hyatt and Best Western properties. Members can also find discounted car rental opportunities.

Also, Costco’s got a really great Visa credit card with lots of benefits if you’re thinking of going to one of these warehouses to spend.

2. First Factor In Fees


Before booking a bargain airfare, check to see if you stand to be slapped with lots of additional fees to check your bags, board early, select your seat (rather than let the computer choose for you and potentially not sit next to travel companions) and even for carry-on luggage. Those extras can turn a cheap fair into one that’s more expensive than other options.

3. Track Prices

trackComparing airfare prices can be time-consuming and frustrating. But Pintrips.com lets you compares prices on travel with real-time price-tracking. It also features a nifty social element that allows you to coordinate with your family and friends. Make sure to continue to track prices after you book your travel, too. Some airlines like Southwest offer refunds for itineraries that drop in price after purchase.

4. Redeem Your Rewards

rewardsAccording to loyalty intelligence consulting firm Colloquy, $16 billion in rewards go unredeemed every year. Instead of letting your rewards languish, if you’re not planning on flying this year, check to see if you can use miles for nights at a hotel or restaurant meals. You may be able to swap or sell them to a pal looking for a cheap flight, too.

And don’t forget about reward programs from hotels and hotel-booking sites. Hotels.com gives one night free for every 10 nights you book through the site. And if you’re looking for last-minute accommodations, try the HotelTonight app for high-end hotel rooms at cut-rate prices.

5. Check For Membership Benefits

travelIf you belong to an organization like AARP, USAA or AAA, you may be eligible for members-only pricing on travel and accommodations.

6. Wait For Santa To Land

santaFlying on Christmas Day might not sound ideal, but it likely will be cheaper than trying to arrive before the world’s jolliest elf gets to your destination. That’s because fewer people travel on Christmas Day, so in order to fill seats, airlines often trim prices for the most wonderful day of the year.

7. Use Alternate Airports

airportFlights in and out of smaller, out of the way regional airports are often less expensive than those in and out of major hubs like Chicago O’Hare, Dallas or Atlanta. Compare the cost of gas and tolls against the savings associated with traveling through a smaller airport an hour or so from your destination.

8. Bump It Up


When flights are overbooked (a common practice during the holidays), airlines often ask for passenger volunteers willing to take a later flight. As a token of its appreciation, the airline will often offer a financial incentive to raise your hand and bump yourself from your scheduled flight. And having extra time in your schedule to arrive at your destination a few hours (or even the next day) later than planned can net you a voucher worth hundreds—even a free flight next Christmas—from your airline.

9. Book With A Pro

holidaysYes, DIY travel-planning options are handy. But using a travel agent can also be helpful to your budget, especially if you’re planning a cruise or to leave the country. An experienced agent can help you navigate potential travel money pits and get you into special tour packages not available to those booking their own travel.

10. Check Out Trains And Automobiles

Holiday BusAir travel isn’t always the cheapest form of transportation. Check out train and bus schedules for discounted travel rates that often include perks like Wi-Fi and reserved seating. Some bus services to consider are:

11. Cash In Frequent-Flier Miles

freq flyIf you have a credit card with a loyalty program, check to see how many airline miles, hotel nights, etc., you’ve racked up before you finalize any travel plans. Putting those frequent-flier miles or cash back rewards to use can help your budget stay on Santa’s nice list this year.

12. Sign Up For Fare Alerts

departIt’s a little known secret that airlines will alert you if/when fares drop. Signing up for these will help you book your travel at precisely the right time. Some sites that offer fare alerts include:

13. Buy Discount Gift Cards

holidaySaving money on dining, entertainment, airfare and hotels can often be as simple as paying in advance. You can often find huge discounts on gift cards – like paying $60 for a $100 gift card to your favorite eatery. All you have to do is enter your zip code at restaurant.com to find gift cards for up to 40 percent off face value to local eateries. And don’t forget that warehouse clubs often sell bundled gift cards to movie theaters and restaurant chains at a slightly lower than face value price.

14. Clip Food Coupons

dealGroupon, LivingSocial and even restaurants’ Facebook pages have daily deals that will save you up to 60 percent off your dining experience. You can also clip virtual restaurant coupons for a free appetizer at Olive Garden or a free breakfast entree from Bob Evans with entree-and-two-drink purchase using Coupon Sherpa.

15. Book Legs Separately

airportInstead of only searching for round-trip tickets, shop for one-way tickets from multiple carriers, too. This lets you apply reward miles to one leg of the trip if you don’t have enough for a round trip ticket. If you’re traveling with family members, book everyone’s ticket separately, too. Reservation systems price group tickets (even small groups of 2 or 3) the same. So if there are only three bargain tickets left and you’re a family of four travelers, you won’t cash in on the savings.

16. Park Your Gas Guzzler

carsLeave your big SUV or truck in the garage and rent a smaller, fuel-efficient car for a long road trip.

17. Rent A Car Away From The Airport

airportSpeaking of rental cars, steer clear of car rental desks based at the airport. Those typically charge a premium and the price may include higher taxes than those a few miles away. Many off-site providers will deliver the car to the airport or pick you up to shuttle you to their office to complete the rental paperwork.

18. Cash In On Cancellations

cancelRoomerTravel.com connects bargain hunters with those stuck with a hotel reservation they can’t use but will still have to pay if they cancel. Savvy holiday travel shoppers can snag the reservation for up to 25 percent below market price.

19. Rent Your Room

travelServices like HomeAway and AirBnB let you rent your room or house while you’re away from home. Your abode can command an average $65 per night which you can use to offset the cost of your trip. Not sure about the process? Check out AirBnB’s Decide to Host to learn about the process and the details you should consider.

20. Check Parking Rates Twice

parkingDon’t pull into long term parking without first visiting AirportParkingReservations.com to review a current list of available parking lots and going rates. You may find a more affordable parking option and can also read reviews to ensure a safe location. Instead of paying cab fare for a ride to granny’s house from the airport or bus station, consider shuttle services or even car shares via Zimride.

21. Ask For A Discount

ticketBefore you settle down for a long winter’s nap and wait for Santa’s hotel visit, check in with the front desk (not the toll-free number) and ask for the cheapest nonrefundable room that they have available. Also ask if the hotel is offering any complimentary upgrades for holiday travelers. Your request might be answered with a lump of coal, but it can’t hurt to ask!

22. Get Paid For Delays Or Cancellations

winter-holidayAirHelp helps you receive compensation for delayed and cancelled flights to make the inconvenience a little less unbearable. The service charges a 25 percent fee of any money you receive if you are compensated; you pay nothing if your claim is rejected. Weary holiday travelers can score up to $800 for their travel troubles.

23. Travel Light

suitcase-Instead of lugging a sack full of packages, boxes and bags, consider carrying gift cards if traveling via air or shopping when you arrive at your destination. That can save you a second bag fee or overweight bag fee most carriers charge passengers.