25 Ways to Take the Hassle Out of Booking Holiday Travel
Working out the logistics of holiday travel probably ranks somewhere between going to the dentist and filing taxes. Between the crowds (on the roads, in the air, and everywhere else) and the increased prices, holiday travel can bring out the Grinch in all of us. Depending on your travel plans, flexibility, and adventurousness, there’s a wide variety of ways to cut the cost of travel from Thanksgiving to New Year's. Budget-travel bloggers, industry executives, and travel editors and journalists share the inside scoop on happy holiday travels.
Cost-conscious travelers turn to Skyscanner, a global metasearch engine, to compare prices on everything from flights to hotels to car rentals. Budget travel blogger Jema Patterson, founder of Half the Clothes, says it's her go-to website when researching the cheapest way to get from one place to another. She takes advantage of the "everywhere" function on the search platform. First she’ll check the prices to her main destination, such as heading to Rome from Raleigh, North Carolina. Then she’ll search departures from the same airport and choose the destination "everywhere" on Skyscanner to see if there are significantly cheaper flights to other countries, such as Portugal. “From there, it's a cheap budget airline hop to the Roman empire," Patterson explains.
Groupon and LivingSocial have dedicated travel sections that include thousands getaways that can enhance your holiday without putting a big dent in your pocketbook. These sites offer discounts on everything from airfare, to family resorts, bike rentals, hotels, tours, and water parks, says Luvleen Sidhu, co-founder and chief strategy officer of BankMobile, a free banking app.
An analysis of booking data from the 2016 holiday season by the travel search site Hipmunk found that travelers saved up to 27 percent if they purchased Thanksgiving airfare by Sept. 25, and up to 38 percent on Christmas airfare. Those who booked by Oct. 30 still saved up to 24 percent on Thanksgiving flights, and up to 31 percent on Christmas flights. “￼So long as you book before Halloween, you’ll usually avoid the highest prices,” said Adam Goldstein, Hipmunk co-founder and CEO. The analysis also found 64 percent of all Thanksgiving flights and 84 percent of all Christmas flights were not booked until the start of October.
Mark Murphy, founder of the industry news site TravelPulse, says hotels often advertise last-minute deals via email lists and Twitter and Facebook accounts. Take a few minutes and sign up to follow hotels in the places where you have holiday travel planned.
Star ratings often reflect amenities, not necessarily overall experience. By opting for a 2- or 3-star hotel with excellent customer reviews (instead of a 4-star property), consumers can find a hidden gem at a great value, says Justine McDonald, a travel expert at Expedia. When searching for accommodations, filter properties by price and guest rating rather than star rating to make it easier to find a highly rated hotel that fits the budget.
Savvy shoppers know they can easily save 15 percent to 20 percent on advertised hotel prices, Bason says. How? Check for coupons on sites such as Travelocity or Orbitz, ask about special rates for AAA or AARP members, and check rates on hotel websites. These days, hotels often feature rates that are lower than those found through online travel agencies, so it may pay to book direct.