Autumn has barely rounded the corner, but the winter holiday planning is already well underway thanks to the savvy marketers of the airline and hotel industries. We all can find plenty of ways to spend money this season, but how can we save money on holiday travel?
Family reunions, themed weddings, going home (f you live away) for the holidays. The only thing to cure the end of summer blues is to start thinking about the upcoming fall and winter festivities, and the holiday travel that comes with the season. But you drained your vacation budget over the summer, or are finally getting used to the college thing, which makes booking another round of flights and hotels so soon a lot less appealing.
With just a few key points in mind, you can learn to smoothly and cost-effectively navigate the harrowing world of holiday planning:
Start your search right now, and you can still take advantage of some early bird deals before everyone else grabs them! If you know your vacation dates already, then don’t wait to book your hotels and flights–especially with any low-cost airlines, like Southwest or JetBlue, where the cheapest holiday fares can disappear the minute you hesitate. Try sites like Kayak.com, HipMunk.com, or Momondo.com.
Don’t forget about last-minute deals
Although the smart early bird does tend to get the fantastically cheap tickets, there’s also the adrenaline rush of the last-minute deal! Heineken recently turned heads with a marketing stunt called Departure Roulette, where passengers in New York City’s JFK had a chance to push a button and change their booked destination to a new, surprise destination in the US and even abroad.
If you’re up for the thrill of leaving your vacation plans until the last minute, then right now, all you have to do is nothing! Then, when it’s a few days before your vacation is supposed to begin, head to a site like LastMinute.com and see what cheap deals await your click.
Think outside the beach
The whole world might be running for the beaches, but if you pause for a moment to consider your options, you’ll see that the places you think of least during winter vacation might be those with the most fabulously tempting deals.
For example, the islands of Greece in the winter may not be the warmest place to spend your vacation. Still, hotels know this too—and are willing to not only offer you a deeply discounted rate, but also throw in plenty of complimentary goodies like spa treatments, gourmet meals, and champagne. Going to a destination offseason will always be more affordable than going during the regular season, so think outside the beach when you plan your winter escape.
Lend a helping hand
Along the lines of non-beach vacations, if you seek an inspiring and enriching way to spend time away from the office, look into voluntourism. In specific locations, participation in a volunteer activity will earn you a hefty discount from your hotel.
After Katrina hit, the New Orleans Marriott hotels offered a discount for guests who spent time helping out in the community, while even the luxe Ritz Carlton hotel has also been known to drop rates for guests who volunteer locally during their stay. If you still long for that sunny beach location, then this can be an enriching experience—for you and your budget too!
Use up your frequent flier miles or points
Some frequent flier mile programs allow your miles to expire, so if that deadline is approaching soon, may as well use them up now for your holiday trip. Even if you don’t have enough for a flight, you can still use them to book hotels or rental cars.
Sharing is caring
Save big bucks by holidaying with friends and splitting the costs of a vacation home rental or a road trip. Or you could try a house swap (also known as a home exchange), and have a new home in a new city or country for absolutely no cost at all. Check out sites like LoveHomeSwap.com and HomeExchange.com.
Home for the holidays
Instead of stressing out over the perfect travel plan, getting a bargain and dealing with holiday-frazzled crowds, why not stay home to celebrate the holidays? Ever hosted a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner? Maybe this will be your time to shine—make sure to enlist some helpers! Longing to work on your novel? When everyone’s off on holiday, there won’t be anyone to distract you.
Don’t follow the crowd this time–think about what you want instead of spending your precious winter vacation the same as you do every single year. Free up your mind from the worry of having to spend X amount of money to get to Y destination, and you’ll experience a much happier and fulfilling holiday.
Suchi Rudra is an avid traveler and freelance writer from Texas who covers personal finance, travel, green building, tech, and entrepreneurship. Her work can be found in VICE, The Guardian, Vice, American Way, BBC Travel, Fodor’s, Transitions Abroad, PlanetEye.com, TravelStart.com, Expats.cz, The Writer and India Currents and many other publications.