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7 Ways to Save on Holiday Travel This Year

Spending time with family over the holidays is priceless. For many, it’s well worth the time, effort and money spent traveling cross-country, just to spend a few days in the presence of those you love. But the harsh reality is that travel during peak holiday season is generally expensive.

In 2017, the average plane ticket for Christmas travel cost $910 round trip, according to pricing data from flight-tracking app Skyscanner. Here are a few tips to save on flight travel so you can go home for the holidays without busting your budget.

How to save money on holiday travel

  1. Track fares a few months in advance
  2. Be flexible with your dates
  3. Don’t book too early — but don’t wait until the last minute
  4. Consider flying out of a regional airport
  5. Get a flight-hotel package
  6. Take advantage of frequent flyer miles
  7. Exchange pet-sitting services with a neighbor

1. Track fares a few months in advance

Typically, flying around the holidays isn’t cheap. But when you teach yourself the basics of tracking flight prices on websites like Google Flights, you know when you’re getting a deal on your itinerary. Google even lets you know when fares are cheaper or more expensive than usual.

You could also download flight-tracking apps, such as Hopper and Skyscanner, which will send you alerts when there’s been a drop in fares. These apps also predict and track trends for hotels.

2. Be flexible with your dates

With the exception of Saturday flights, weekend flights are more expensive than those that fall on a weekday. That may be because people who work a 9-to-5 job don’t necessarily have to take time off to make a Friday-through-Sunday trip. You’ll have the best luck finding a deal if you fly on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday, while flights on Fridays and Sundays typically cost more.

Flights immediately surrounding the holidays tend to be pricey as well. You could save money by flying out on Thanksgiving or Christmas morning, for example, compared with Christmas Eve or the Wednesday before turkey day.

3. Don’t book too early — but don’t wait until the last minute

When it comes to holiday flights, fortune favors those who don’t procrastinate. Domestic fares for flights around Christmas cost 4% less than average in October, Skyscanner data found.

If you wait too long, though, you risk overpaying for your flight. You’ll pay 9% more on average if you buy your ticket the week before Christmas, for example. Flight prices start going up around late November, with the 19th being the last good day to score cheap holiday flights.

4. Consider flying out of a regional airport

One of the best budget travel tips you can utilize year-round: Consider flying out of nearby airports. Discount airlines at regional airports may have cheaper routes than what you’d find at international airports.

For example, Concord-Padgett is a regional airport in North Carolina that is around 25 minutes from Charlotte’s city center. It’s closer to home than the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport for many of the city’s residents. And depending on the destination, Concord-Padgett Regional Airport may have much cheaper plane tickets through discount airline Allegiant.

5. Get a flight-hotel package

Sleeping in the old twin-sized bed in your bedroom at your parents’ house is as much of a holiday tradition as leaving out cookies and milk for Santa. When you’re married with kids, it may not be feasible to stay at home during the holidays anymore, and you just need a hotel.

Sometimes, you’ll save money by bundling hotel and flight packages. Other times, it’s cheaper to buy separately. You’ll need to do your research comparing deals on different travel websites like Kayak and Hotwire to make that choice.

6. Take advantage of frequent flyer miles

Responsible users who don’t already have an airline rewards might consider opening one ahead of the holidays. Many cards offer new cardholders thousands of miles for opening an account and meeting certain requirements.

Below are a few cards offering bonus miles to new customers who meet requirements. But we encourage you to research card offers to find the deal that best suits your financial profile and needs.

Sign-up & welcome offers for popular airline credit cards
Airline card Annual fee Sign-up/Welcome offer
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card* $0 Earn 10,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles and receive a $50 statement credit after making $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®* $99, waived for first 12 months Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card $0 Earn 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $500 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99. Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months, Offer Expires 10/28/2020.
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card* $69 Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

*The information related to this offer has been collected by LendingTree and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. Terms apply.

Keep this caveat in mind: It can be difficult to use your frequent flyer miles over the holidays, because flights are typically more expensive and in high demand. You’ll use more airline miles during peak travel days than you would during off-peak. But if you can be flexible with your dates and you have miles to spare, you should be able to use airline miles for budget travel.

7. Exchange pet-sitting services with a neighbor

Building a relationship with your neighbors has its benefits. That’s especially so when you both have pets, because boarding services around the holidays can cost you a lot. Don’t let the cost of leaving your pets deter you from holiday travel.

Offer to exchange dates for pet-sitting services around the holidays. You can watch your neighbor’s cats over Thanksgiving, for example. In exchange, they may dog-sit for you over Christmas. Working out this kind of deal will save you money on a kennel. Leaving your pets with someone they know can also relieve some of the stress that comes with separation.

If you aren’t close with your neighbors, try a low-cost pet service like Wag! or Rover. Both websites require pet care providers to pass a knowledge assessment and background check.

3 ways to pay for holiday travel

  1. Account for travel in your holiday spending budget
  2. Use a rewards credit card to get points or cash back
  3. Still coming up short? Borrow a holiday loan

1. Account for travel in your holiday spending budget

You don’t have to be a budgeting whiz to learn how to save money for travel. Just get a rough estimate for the cost of plane tickets using the flight-tracking apps listed above, and work the cost of plane tickets in your holiday spending budget.

In addition to cost estimates for gifts per person, include gift-wrapping, food and desserts, cards, stamps and even a travel budget. That way, you know exactly how much you should set aside for the holidays this year and you aren’t left with debt come January.

2. Use a rewards credit card to get points or cash back

Get rewarded while paying for travel. It’s simple, as long as you pay off your credit cards’ balance to avoid paying interest. There are plenty of credit cards that give back that you could take advantage of this holiday season.

For example, as of November 2019, the Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card lets you earn 3% cash back in the category of your choice. If you choose the travel category, you could earn cash back for staying at an Airbnb or buying a plane ticket through Delta, United or American Airlines. Or, if you decide to go the old-fashioned route and take a road trip home for Christmas, you could set your cash back category to gas.

3. Still coming up short? Borrow a holiday loan

Generally, you’ll want to avoid taking out debt for an asset that won’t appreciate over time. That means that you might want to think twice before taking out a holiday loan, also known as a personal loan, to beef up your travel budget.

But sometimes, taking out a holiday loan can be the right move — for instance, if you have a good credit score and a plan to quickly repay your debt to minimize interest costs. Or, if you absolutely need to travel to see an ailing family member this holiday season but don’t have the cash.

Before you take out a holiday loan, consider the following.

Pros

  • Holiday loans are unsecured, meaning you won’t need to put up collateral to qualify.
  • Your interest rate might be lower than it is for your credit card. For example, those with credit scores over 720 saw an average 7.27% APR on personal loans opened in Q1 2019, found a LendingTree study on personal loans.
  • Quickly borrow up to $50,000 or more with funds in your account within 1 business day, depending on the lender.

Cons

  • There are high minimum borrowing amounts depending on your lender. You’re liable to find lenders offering a minimum $1,000 loan.
  • Your trip will cost extra due to interest, especially if you have low credit. Borrowers with subprime credit paid an average 85.92% APR on personal loans in Q1 2019.
  • You may have to pay fees. Many lenders charge an origination fee, which typically ranges from 1%-8%. (This is packed into your APR, though.) You may also see a prepayment penalty.

While it’s not advised to take out debt for travel, you do have options if you need to make it home for the holidays and don’t have the cash. Just remember to always make your payments on time to avoid racking up more debt down the road.

 

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