GET THERE, STAY THERE, AND SAVE
Traveling here, there, and yon over the holidays need not leave you penniless. There are workarounds galore that savvy travelers can use to find huge savings on airfare, hotels, and local transportation. Whether visiting family or taking a vacation, use these tips to land a holiday travel deal.
Related: 16 Ways to Make Holiday Shopping More Affordable -- Starting Now
HOLD AIRLINE TICKETS
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, or buy and cancel within that window and get a refund. This allows time to confirm plans without the risk of missing out on a low fare.
GET A SIGN-UP BONUS
Some credit cards offer large sign-up bonuses to new cardholders who spend a certain amount of money within the first few months. The expenses associated with the holidays make this a good time to take one of these offers.
KNOW WHEN TO BOOK FLIGHTS
In an analysis of 2015 booking data, the travel search site Hipmunk found that six weeks out was the best time to book a cheap flight to one of the nation's 20 biggest airports for the holidays. That means booking by Nov. 7 for Christmas -- and booking now if you're flying to a smaller airport, according to the site's research.
STAY IN OUTLYING HOTELS
To save on lodging, head for the periphery. Hotels could be cheaper farther from the city center or major attractions. One exception: With business travel at a lull during the holidays, rates may be low in a city's financial district.
MAKE HOTEL RESERVATIONS FAR IN ADVANCE
Book hotels in advance, before they begin to approach full occupancy and rates start climbing. Although hotels sometimes offer a discount for paying in advance, many reservations can be canceled within a day of the stay without penalty. Meanwhile, keep searching for better deals.
BOOK ON AIRLINE WEBSITES
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.
AVOID ATM FEES
It can be hard to find an ATM affiliated with your home bank while traveling, particularly overseas. Avoid the extra charge by opening an account with a financial services firm that refunds ATM fees.
TRACK PRICES WITH YAPTA
Yapta tracks the cost of flights, hotels, and cars, and sends alerts when prices fall. Book when the price seems low, and continue using the service to track the price automatically. You may be eligible for a refund or voucher if the price drops.
TAKE THE BUS
Buses aren't the quickest way to travel, but they can be inexpensive. Some are fairly comfortable and offer Wi-Fi, power ports for laptops and other devices, and snacks.
House-sitting is a route to nearly free lodging. The websites HouseCarers, Mind My House, Nomador, and Trusted Housesitters (for homeowners with pets) provide listings in multiple countries from people looking for someone to stay in and care for their homes, with no money changing hands. Homeowners can join these services for free, but potential house sitters may pay up to $119 a year.
JOIN AIRLINE REWARDS PROGRAMS
Frequent flyers should take advantage of the free rewards programs associated with their favorite airlines. Points build over time and can be used to upgrade a seat or cover the cost of a ticket.
USE GROUP DISCOUNTS
Be aggressive about leveraging discounts available through memberships. with group-buying AAA offers a lot of hotel discounts, as does AARP. Active-duty military personnel and their families often qualify for discounts.
MAKE MONEY WHILE TRAVELING
Turn an idle vehicle into a source of profit by renting it out while traveling for the holidays. Turo can make this happen in more than 4,500 cities in the United States, with liability coverage provided by the company.
TRAVEL AT OFF-PEAK TIMES
If possible, schedule travel during non-peak times. For example, flying the day before Thanksgiving is more costly than leaving any other day that week, according to a CheapAir report, and the Sunday after Thanksgiving -- the busiest travel day of the year -- is even more expensive. Leaving a day before everyone else or staying a day later can make a big difference. Flying on holidays is also a surefire way to save.
BOOK FLIGHTS ONLINE
Try to avoid booking flights over the phone, because airlines often charge for the help. Instead, speak to a representative (if needed) to figure out travel plans, then book online.
TRAVEL WITH A GROUP
If possible, travel in a group and share resources. The cost of a hotel room split among four friends is way cheaper than a hotel room for just one or two. Likewise, a road trip with friends or family could save a lot of money compared with flying.
Related: 11 Ways to Save Money When Traveling Solo
BE CAREFUL WHERE YOU BOOK
Travel aggregators and booking sites such as Expedia, Orbitz, or Priceline make it easy to compare prices and sometimes offer discounts. But booking accommodations through a third party can lead to extra hassle when changing accommodations, and some travelers complain of lost reservations.
CHECK SOUTHWEST, TOO
Prices for Southwest's flights don't appear on travel aggregator sites. Checking the airline's site can help ensure travelers compare all the available prices before booking.
USE DEAL ALERTS TO PLAN A VACATION
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.
FIND HOMEY LODGING
Book a room through Airbnb, VRBO, or another home-rental service; it's often cheaper than a hotel. Most offer the chance to save money by preparing meals in a kitchen rather than eating out, and some even have the space to host holiday gatherings.
DON'T LEAVE AN EMPTY NEST
Don't miss the chance to earn money while on vacation and offset some travel costs. In addition to booking a stay through Airbnb or VRBO, list your own home. Check local ordinances to be sure it's legal in your city.
Related: 16 Need-to-Know Tips for Renting Out Your Place on Airbnb
BOOK EACH LEG SEPARATELY
Especially when traveling overseas, it can be cheaper to book each leg of a flight separately rather than book from point A to point B with a layover.
BOOK ONE-WAY FLIGHTS
It's also no longer true that round-trip flights are the cheapest. 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.
AVOID FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEES
Paying for goods and services with a credit card while traveling abroad may incur big foreign transaction fees. Avoid the extra expense by signing up for a credit card that doesn't have this fee well before leaving.
JOIN HOTEL LOYALTY PROGRAMS
Even infrequent travelers should join a hotel loyalty program. Perks such as free Wi-Fi are sometimes offered even to members who haven't built up "status" in the program.
Mini bottles of liquor are small enough to pass TSA screening and much cheaper than beverages sold at airports. Think about how you're using those nips, though, because it's against the law for passengers to serve themselves alcoholic drinks aboard a plane.
BOOK HOTELS DIRECT
Call hotels directly after doing online research. Hotels often try to beat, or at least match, a price quoted online. Many chains even offer a discount for direct bookings, if the traveler also joins the loyalty program.
Related: 12 Ways Booking Direct May Get You a Better Deal
GET A PRICE-DROP REBATE
Look into the price-drop payback offer from the website CheapAir, which gives up to a $100 credit for post-purchase drops in airfare for an identical itinerary.
GET AN EXTENDED-STAY DISCOUNT
Sometimes it's possible to get a free night when booking a hotel for four or five nights in a row. This can come in handy for an extended stay while visiting family during the holidays.
Some hotels charge for parking regardless whether valet service is offered. Save by parking on the street or in nearby public lots, which often are cheaper.
TRY A HOSTEL
Especially when traveling outside the United States, consider staying in hostels. It can mean sacrificing some privacy in exchange for multi-person bunk rooms with unrivaled low rates; slightly pricier, but still cheap, private rooms often are available. Staying in a hostel is also a way to meet fellow travelers.
EARN CAR-RENTAL REWARDS
Just like airlines and hotels, many car rental companies have rewards programs. Even brand-new members may get perks, such as a waived fee for a second driver.
USE CREDIT CARD POINTS
Take note of travel-related miles or points earned through a credit card. These add up and can help underwrite the cost of a vacation.
TRY NAME-YOUR-PRICE SITES
Before booking a hotel room through a name-your-price website such as Priceline or Hotwire, turn to the BetterBidding discussion board for tricks that can yield welcome savings.
USE AIRLINE CREDIT CARD PERKS
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.
STAY IN PEACE
Servas, a web-based project of the International Peace Association, matches travelers to hosts in more than 100 countries for free.
ASK FOR AN INDUSTRY DISCOUNT
Friends or family members who work in the hospitality industry may be able to arrange special discounts, even when they aren't part of the travel party. Don't be shy -- suggest it as this year's holiday gift.
BOOK IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE
After narrowing flight options for international travel, look at the foreign versions of airline sites (such as britishairways.co.uk instead of britishairways.com). The price may be lower, even if payment is in a different currency.
RELY ON CAR SHARING
Turn to car-share programs rather than a traditional rental service. Getaround and Turo connect car owners with people seeking short-term rentals, often at prices cheaper than traditional car-rental companies.
Adventurous travelers might try Home Exchange, a site that lists more than 65,000 homes in 150 countries. Members list their home for use by another traveler and search for one in the desired destination. If there's a match -- and each party wants to visit the other's location at the same time -- the swap is free for the length of the stay.
USE CREDIT CARD INSURANCE
When renting a car, pay with a credit card that also provides insurance and decline the rental agency's collision damage waiver. But check the terms -- no matter the type of card, liability insurance often isn't included. And some policies provide only reimbursements, leaving the renter to pay for damages upfront and get paid back when an insurance company has reviewed the claim.
FLY TO 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 new routes will be eager to attract travelers through lower fares.
USE SOCIAL MEDIA
Keep abreast of travel deals by following airlines and hotels on social media and subscribing to their newsletters. Flash sales and exclusive discounts sometimes get sent to followers.
USE AN APP WHEN IN A BIND
For extreme-last-minute travel plans, the Hotel Tonight app can help find lodging at a discounted price. But don't book before comparing the price with last-minute deals on other sites.
STAY FLEXIBLE AND SAVE
When booking a flight, search multiple dates. Tools such as Kayak feature a "flexible" function that compares prices for an itinerary within three days on both sides of selected travel dates.
BOOK BUDGET HOTELS
For cheap lodging, look at independent boutique hotels without amenties such as a fitness center. Most people probably won't take advantage during the holidays, when much of the day is spent elsewhere.
OFFER A WORK EXCHANGE
If budget hostels are still too expensive, offer to work in exchange for a room. Hostels short on staff (perhaps employees went home for the holidays) may be quick to agree.
GO THROUGH COSTCO
A $55 annual membership at Costco can save the fee for a second driver when rental car reservations are made through the warehouse club's travel service.
CRASH FOR FREE
For the ultimate in cheap lodging, sleep at a family member's home. When that's not an option, consider Couchsurfing. Couch surfers search the website for an open couch or spare room wherever they might be passing through. The service is free, but it can be hard to break in, as hosts rely heavily on references -- no surprise given the security issues involved.