50 Money-Saving Tips for Holiday Travel

50 Money-Saving Tips for Holiday Travel


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50 Money-Saving Tips for Holiday Travel
Airline Rewards Programs
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AAA Logo on Left Side of a Hanging Blank White Sign
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Take Advantage of Group-Buying Discounts

Be aggressive about leveraging discounts available through organizations with group-buying deals. AAA almost always offers special hotel discounts, as does AARP. Veterans and active-duty military personnel often qualify for discounts.

Related: 45 Travel Discounts for Seniors

Holiday Airfares

Know When to Look for Lower Holiday Airfares

For Thanksgiving travel, make sure to book flights more than 10 days in advance. If past history is any guide, prices should remain relatively stable until then. CheapAir reports that the day before Thanksgiving and the Saturday after are the most costly days to fly.

Airline Websites

Check Airline Websites First

Check the airline's official website before buying a ticket. Sometimes deals from the primary source are the cheapest of all and include additional benefits, such as lower fees. Some frequent bookers suggest clearing your computer's cache before a search.

Research Tools

Use Booking Sites as Research Tools

Be wary of relying on aggregators such as Expedia. These sites often put forward inflexible deals and their role as intermediaries may mean higher prices. Use them as research tools instead (though you may still want to clear a computer's cache pre-search).

Credit Card Sign Up
Ticket Hold

Make the Most of Ticket Holds

U.S. airlines are required to let travelers hold domestic tickets for up to 24 hours at a locked-in price while they decide whether to go for it — and some airlines offer a seven-day locked-in price for a small fee. Cancel while that window is open and get a refund.

Alternate Airports

Look for Cheaper Flights at Alternate Airports

Check fares from multiple airports in the region and consider flying via alternate routes. Prices may differ by airport, and airlines that have recently opened up routes will be eager to attract travelers through lower fares.

Related: Stuck on a Layover? Secrets to Beat Boredom in 19 Major Airports

Online Booking

Book Online Instead of Over the Phone

Try to avoid booking flights over the phone, because airlines often charge for the assistance. Instead, speak to a representative (if needed) to figure out travel plans, then book online.

One-Way Flights

Consider Booking One-Way Flights to Save

Two one-way flights on different airlines may cost less than a round trip on the same airline, or provide the option of traveling at a more convenient time for the same price.

Budget Airlines

Find Cheap Tickets with Budget Airlines

Check into the budget airlines, a few of which don't show up on aggregator sites. Low-cost carriers forgo some of the amenities that legacy carriers provide, but the tickets are often significantly cheaper. Watch out for extra fees (e.g., for choosing a seat), though, as they mount up quickly.

Flexible Travel Dates

Be Flexible With Travel Dates If You Can

When booking a flight, search multiple dates. Tools such as Kayak feature a "flexible" function that compares all prices for an itinerary within three days on both sides of the selected travel dates.

Off-Peak Travel
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Book Off-Peak Dates

If possible, schedule travel during non-peak times — such as the day of the holiday — when airfare is cheaper. Leaving a day before everyone else or staying a day later can make a big difference.

Airline Credit Cards

Consider Signing Up for an Airline Credit Card

Credit cards associated with airlines typically offer cardholders a free checked bag, priority boarding, and discounted in-flight meal purchases. The checked bag can be particularly useful during the holidays when transporting gifts.

Travel Deals

Track the Best Travel Deals

Stay abreast of travel deals by following airlines and hotels on travel media. Sometimes newsletter subscribers are offered exclusive discounts.

Deal Alerts

Subscribe to Deal Alerts

Travelers with little preference for destination can sign up for alerts from websites such as Travelzoo and Airfarewatchdog. Subscribers often see deals for cheap flights or vacation packages.

Yapta Alerts

Sign Up for Yapta Alerts

Turn to Yapta, a site that tracks the cost of flights, hotels, and cars, and sends alerts when prices fall. Depending on the size of the price drop, you may be eligible for a refund on some major airlines.

Name-Your-Price Sites
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Save Even More With Name-Your-Price Sites

Before booking a hotel room through a name-your-price website such as Priceline, turn to BetterBidding for a list of tricks that can yield welcome savings.

Foreign Booking Sites

Try Foreign Booking Sites for International Travel

After narrowing flight options for international travel, look at the foreign version of the airline's site (such as britishairways.co.uk instead of britishairways.com). The price may be cheaper when booked in an alternate currency and paid for with a credit card that doesn't charge a foreign transaction fee.

Price-Drop Returns

Get Money Back on Flights With Price-Drop Returns

Look into the price-drop payback offer from the website CheapAir, which refunds up to $100 for any post-purchase change in airfare for an identical itinerary.

Last-Minute Tickets

Look for Last-Minute Tickets

It's risky, but consider waiting until the day before traveling to buy a plane ticket — unless it's the day before the holiday itself. Airlines sometimes sell empty seats for extremely low prices to avoid a total loss on those spots.

Mini Drinks

Save Money With Mini Bottles of Booze

If you drink, pack mini bottles of liquor to sip in-flight. They're small enough to pass TSA screening and much cheaper than beverages sold on board. Keep in mind, however, that it is against FAA regulations to serve yourself alcohol, so technically you'll want to ask a flight attendant to serve them to you. Not all airlines will accommodate the request, but JetBlue has been known to do so. If you can't drink them onboard, you'll be glad you have them when you reach your destination — you'll save money on minibar fees.

Best Cheap Hotel Chains

Find Cheaper Rates at Outlying Hotels

To save on lodging, head for the periphery. Hotels are cheaper farther away from the city center or major attraction. One exception: With business travel at a lull during the holidays, rates may be low in a city's financial district.

Related: The 20 Best Free Hotel Breakfasts in America

Budget Hotel Chains

Score a Deal With Budget Hotel Chains

Looking for cheap lodging but not concerned about amenities? Book at one of the better budget hotel chains. This may be a good option during the holidays when much of the day is spent elsewhere.

Advance Reservations

Make Advance Reservations for Hotels

Book hotels in advance, before they begin to approach full occupancy and rates start climbing. Often there's no downside, because reservations can be canceled within a day of the stay without penalty. Meanwhile, keep searching for better deals.

Hotel Booking
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Call Hotels Directly to Get Better Rates

Call hotels directly after doing online research. Hotels often try to beat, or at least match, the quoted online price. Some chains, such as Hilton, offer incentives for booking directly on their site (free Wi-Fi in this case).

Corporate Booking Sites

Look for Hotel Deals on Corporate Booking Sites

For chain hotels, refer to the corporate websites when making reservations. There may be online-only discounts that are unknown to on-site employees and online aggregators.

Extended Stay Discounts
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Ask About Extended Stay Discounts at Hotels

Hotel chains sometimes offer a free night to travelers staying four or five nights in a row. This can come in handy during an extended stay when visiting family during the holidays.

Industry Discounts

Save Big With Industry Discounts

Friends or family members who work in the hospitality industry may be able to arrange special deep discounts. Don't be shy — suggest it as this year's holiday gift.

Book Slightly Outside of Town

Enjoy the Perks of Hotel Loyalty Programs

Even infrequent travelers should join a hotel loyalty program. Perks include some combination of vouchers, free stays, free in-room Wi-Fi, and more.

Group Travel
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Save by Traveling as a Group

If possible, travel in groups. The cost of a hotel room split among four friends is cheaper than a hotel room for just one or two.

Lodging App

Book a Hotel at the Last Minute for Steep Discounts

For extreme last-minute travel plans, use the app Hotel Tonight to find lodging at a discounted price.

Off-Site Parking

Find Off-Site Parking When Staying at a Hotel

Some hotels charge for parking regardless of whether valet service is offered. Save by parking on the street or at nearby public lots, which often are cheaper.

Try an Airbnb
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Find Cozy Lodging for Less With Vacation Rentals

Book a room through Airbnb instead of staying at a hotel. With lodging offered by local residents in 190 countries, this is an opportunity to stay someplace homey while saving money (many options are cheaper than hotels).

Home Switching

Try Swapping Homes With Other Travelers

Adventurous travelers might try Home Exchange, a site that lists 65,000 homes in 150 countries. Members list their home for use by another traveler and then search for one in the desired destination. If there's a match (each party wants to visit the other's location at the same time), the swap is free for the length of the stay.


Try Housesitting Instead of Hotels

Housesitting is a route to nearly free lodging. The websites HouseCarers, Housesitter, MindMyHouse, and Nomador provide listings in multiple countries by people looking for someone to stay in and care for their homes, with no money changing hands. Permanent occupants can join these services for free, but potential housesitters may pay up to $89 a year.

Welcoming Hosts

Stay With International Hosts for Free

U.S. Servas, a web-based project of the International Peace Association, matches travelers to hosts in more than 100 countries for free.


Find Cheap Lodging at Hostels

When traveling outside the United States, consider staying in hostels. Sacrifice some privacy in exchange for multiperson bunk rooms with unrivaled rates. Slightly pricier, but still cheap, private rooms often are also available. Hostels also are a surefire way to meet fellow travelers.

Work Exchange
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Ask About Work Exchanges at Hostels

If a hostel is too expensive, offer to work in exchange for a room. Hostels short on staff (perhaps employees went home for the holidays) may agree readily.

Free Lodging

Score Free Lodging by Couch Surfing

For the ultimate in cheap lodging, try the Couchsurfing app and join a community that spans the globe. Couch surfers search the site for an open couch or spare room wherever they might be passing through. The service is completely free, but it can be hard to break in, as hosts rely heavily on references — no surprise, given the security issues involved.

Costco Advantage
Car Rental Rewards
Credit Card Insurance
Car Sharing
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Save Money With Car Sharing Instead of Rentals

Turn to car-share programs if you need a car at your destination. Turo connects car owners with people seeking short-term rentals, often at prices cheaper than traditional car rental companies.

Bus Rides
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Consider Taking the Bus

Buses aren't the quickest way to travel, but they can be an inexpensive option. Some are fairly comfortable and offer Wi-Fi, power ports, and snacks.

Credit Card Points
No-ATM-Fee Accounts

Look for No-ATM-Fee Accounts

It can be hard to find an ATM affiliated with your home bank when outside the United States. Work around the extra charge by opening an account with a financial services firm, such as Charles Schwab, or a credit union that refunds ATM fees.

No Foreign Transaction Fee

Avoid Foreign Transaction Fees

Paying for goods and services with a credit card while traveling abroad may incur a foreign transaction fee equal to several percent of the purchase price. Avoid the extra expense by signing up for one of the credit cards without this fee well before departure day.

Home Profits

Rent Out Your House While You're Away

Earn money while on vacation and offset some travel costs by listing your home on Airbnb or Vrbo. Check local ordinances to be sure this is legal in your city.

Car Profits

Rent Your Car While You're Away

Turn your idle vehicle into a source of profit by renting it out while you're away. Turo can make this happen. (Liability coverage is provided by the company.)