50 Ways to Save Money on Your Holiday Travel

By   

View as:

santa with airline tickets and red leather briefcase looking at camera
Photo credit: Pressmaster/shutterstock

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

hand holding mobile phone with boarding pass on airport
Photo credit: Aleksandra Gigowska/shutterstock

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.

credit card application form with an approved stamp and a pen on a wooden desk
Photo credit: karen roach/shutterstock

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.

woman with girl doing homework on laptop
Photo credit: goodluz/shutterstock

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.

opened door of hotel room with key in the lock
Photo credit: Dragon Images/shutterstock

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.

booking reservation for hotel on tablet
Photo credit: Rawpixel/shutterstock

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.

United Airlines homepage on a monitor screen through a magnifying glass
Photo credit: Gil C/shutterstock

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.

man hand puts credit card into ATM
Photo credit: Denys Prykhodov/shutterstock

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.

mother showing baby something in laptop near Christmas tree
Photo credit: Alliance/shutterstock

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.

bus seats inside a bus
Photo credit: Vipavlenkoff/shutterstock

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.

loving couple in vacation home
Photo credit: VGstockstudio/shutterstock

TRY HOUSE-SITTING

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.

Boeing 757 American Airline approaches JFK in New York
Photo credit: Chris Parypa Photography/shutterstock

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.

woman soldier pledging allegiance
Photo credit: Sean Locke Photography/shutterstock

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.

fender of white sport car driving in the winter
Photo credit: S_Photo/shutterstock

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.

empty airplane seats in the cabin
Photo credit: Kritchanut/shutterstock

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.

airplane button on keyboard
Photo credit: Markus Mainka/shutterstock

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.

group of friends traveling by car on a vacation to the mountains
Photo credit: YanLev/shutterstock

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

couple sitting on the floor on laptop in family room
Photo credit: Syda Productions/shutterstock

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.

four Southwest airplanes A320 parked at the airport
Photo credit: Nadezda Murmakova/shutterstock

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.

woman at train station on her mobile
Photo credit: William Perugini/shutterstock

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.

Airbnb logo
Photo credit: 360b/shutterstock

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.

cheerful couple inviting people to enter in home
Photo credit: Jack Frog/shutterstock

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

people with luggage at the airport
Photo credit: Billion Photos/shutterstock

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.

girl at the airport window
Photo credit: Alexander Chaikin/shutterstock

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.

credit card ready to swipe through terminal for purchase
Photo credit: aastock/shutterstock

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.

receptionist is assisting female customer in filling up form in hotel
Photo credit: racorn/shutterstock

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.

hand holding little bottles of liquor
Photo credit: Carlos Yudica/shutterstock

BYOB

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.

attractive executive at the reception of a hotel
Photo credit: Gabriel Georgescu/shutterstock

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

dollar bill airplane held with hand with city in background
Photo credit: www.BillionPhotos.com/shutterstock

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.

receptionist handing over a business card to a customer with a warm welcoming smile
Photo credit: racorn/shutterstock

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.

vacant parking lot with copy writing space
Photo credit: Singhanart/shutterstock

PARK OFF-SITE

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.

hostel sign on brick wall background
Photo credit: Tomasz Bidermann/shutterstock

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.

car rental assistant giving information to customer
Photo credit: goodluz/shutterstock

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.

buying airline tickets on line with a credit card
Photo credit: conejota/shutterstock

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.

couple on sofa with laptop
Photo credit: pikselstock/shutterstock

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.

woman working on her laptop computer on board of an airplane during the flight
Photo credit: l i g h t p o e t/shutterstock

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.

family standing on the entrance door of new home
Photo credit: goodluz/shutterstock

STAY IN PEACE

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

happy receptionist worker standing at hotel counter
Photo credit: Dmitry Kalinovsky/shutterstock

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.

close up of female hands making online payment
Photo credit: rangizzz/shutterstock

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.

one hand giving car keys to another hand
Photo credit: A.C.Photo/shutterstock

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.

JetBlue Airbus A320 aircraft at the gates
Photo credit: Leonard Zhukovsky/shutterstock

TRY BUDGET AIRLINES

Explore budget airlines, a few of which don't show up on aggregator sites. Ultra-low-cost carriers forgo some amenities, but the tickets are often significantly cheaper. Beware extra fees (e.g., for choosing a seat), which can mount quickly.

staff at airport check in desk
Photo credit: Monkey Business Images/shutterstock

TRADE HOMES

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.

close up of customer giving credit card to rental car specialist in suit
Photo credit: Syda Productions/shutterstock

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.

airport 'Departure & Arrival' information board sign
Photo credit: alice-photo/shutterstock

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.

Facebook and Twitter icons in hand
Photo credit: fyv6561/shutterstock

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.

hotel booking with mobile before close suitcase
Photo credit: cunaplus/shutterstock

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.

online booking airplane tickets
Photo credit: Maxx-Studio/shutterstock

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.

hotel room interior
Photo credit: August_0802/shutterstock

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.

woman working in hostel reception interior
Photo credit: Sorbis/shutterstock

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.

Costco Wholesale store exterior
Photo credit: Ken Wolter/shutterstock

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.

man resting in leather couch on the beach
Photo credit: Mooshny/shutterstock

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.

Cheapism.com participates in affiliate marketing programs, which means we may earn a commission if you choose to purchase a product through a link on our site. This helps support our work and does not influence editorial content.