‘Tis this season for long lines at the baggage claim, crowded airports and bustling hotel lobbies. 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 canceled in the past five years.
While you can’t do much about airlines overbooking flights or Mother Nature, you can keep these tips in mind to trim the cost of your holiday travel.
1. Head to the warehouse
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, 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. Factor in additional 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. Use aggregator apps to find the best prices
Comparing airfare and lodging prices can be time-consuming and frustrating. However, aggregator apps (and sites) can do help you do most of the heavy lifting when shopping for the best prices. For example, Hopper and Google Flights are excellent tools for exploring new destinations and finding the dates, times, and airlines with the lowest prices. Hotel Tonight makes it easy to find a last-minute hotel room. And next time you plan a road trip, use GasBuddy and never pay full price at the gas pump again.
4. Redeem your credit card rewards
According to loyalty intelligence consulting firm Colloquy, about $380 billion in reward points go unredeemed each year. Check your credit card accounts and see if you can use any of your points or miles to pay for travel expenses. If you’re out of reward points, apply for a travel rewards card with a generous sign-up bonus in preparation for your next vacation. Chase Sapphire Preferred offers a large sign-up bonus and increases the value of points by 25% when you redeem them for travel expenses.
Capital One’s Venture Rewards card is another attractive option for travelers because it combines a generous signup bonus and a high rewards rate on all purchases.
5. Check For membership benefits
If you belong to an organization like AARP, USAA or AAA, you may be eligible for members-only pricing on travel and accommodations.
6. Fly on Christmas day
Flying on Christmas Day might not sound ideal, but you can save money if you fly on the 25th of December. That’s because fewer people travel on Christmas Day. So, airlines often lower their prices to try and fill their flights as much as possible.
7. Use regional airports
Flights 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, New York, 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 offer a financial incentive to those willing to give up their seats and take the next scheduled flight. Plan your travel so you have extra time in your schedule to arrive at your destination. Having the option of arriving 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
Yes, 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, enjoy all-inclusive vacations, or planning to visit multiple countries. 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. Don’t forget to check trains and buses
Air 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 Megabus, BoltBus, and LuxBus America.
11. Redeem loyalty points
Most major hotel chains and airlines have loyalty programs that allow customers to earn points and redeem them for free flights or hotel rooms. Select two or three chains and airlines you like — and fit your budget — and join their loyalty programs. Discovery (loyalty program for Global Hotel Alliance), Wyndham Rewards Program, and Marriott’s Bonvoy are three excellent hotel loyalty programs to get you started. Just a handful of reservations can score you a free room. If the loyalty program has a credit card (Wyndham and Marriott Bonvoy do), maximize the rewards by combining loyalty points with credit card points.
12. Sign up for fare alerts
It’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 Airfarewatchdog, Yapta, FareCompare, TripAdvisor, and Kayak.
13. Buy discount gift cards
Saving money on entertainment, airfare, and hotels can often be as simple as paying in advance. You can buy gift cards at a discount on sites like CardCash and Raise. Some sites, such as Raise, will also buy unwanted gift cards. 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 restaurant coupons
Eating out is often the most expensive part of traveling during the holidays. You can save a lot of money if you plan ahead. Groupon, 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 from hundreds of restaurants using Coupon Sherpa.
15. Try booking flights separately
Instead 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
Leave your big SUV or truck in the garage and rent a smaller, fuel-efficient car for a long road trip. You will avoid the wear and tear on your car and save money on gas.
17. Rent a car outside the Airport
Speaking 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
Did you get stuck with a nonrefundable hotel room? You can use sites like RoomerTravel.com and Cancelon to sell your nonrefundable reservation. These sites are also a great option if you’re looking to snag a great room at discounted prices.
19. Rent Your Room
Services like HomeAway and Airbnb let you rent your room or house while you’re away from home. You’ll earn income from your home rental that you can use to offset the cost of your trip.
20. Check parking rates twice
Don’t pull into long term parking without first visiting an aggregator site like SpotHero or 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.
21. Ask for a discount
Before 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 doesn’t hurt to ask!
22. Get paid for delays or cancelations
Delayed or canceled flights can ruin the best vacation plans. AirHelp helps you receive compensation for delayed and canceled 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
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 way you avoid the second bag or overweight bag fee most carriers charge passengers.
Frequent contributor of health and caregiving, personal finance, mortgage, and insurance articles, as well as celebrity interviews and Q&As to MSN, Realtor.com, Credit Sesame, Fortune, USA Today, Women’s Health, Family Circle, Essence, Lifescript, Health Monitor Network, and more. Gina’s work has been featured on the covers of numerous titles including Glamour, Live Happy, Neurology Now, and many other national and international publications.