By Nataliya Yakushev
Holiday travel can add to an already-strained budget, but there are ways you can save money on this often-expensive holiday tradition.
Here are seven holiday travel tips to help save money and reduce some of your holiday debt.
1. Book Your Holiday Travel Early
When it comes to traveling around the holidays, don't wait for a last-minute deal. Unlike the numerous sales that run between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, holiday-time airfare and hotel stays tend to be less expensive the further you are from the holiday. Once you know your plans, start shopping for the best prices for your airline ticket or hotel room.
An article on the Business Insider website recommends also taking advantage of the 24-Hour Rule. Many of the major airlines - including Alaska, Virgin America, United, US Airways and Southwest - allow you to cancel and rebook tickets purchased through their websites within 24 hours of booking without penalty. This allows you to check for a better fare the next day. Be sure to check the current policy of each airline before booking your ticket.
2. Be Flexible with Travel Dates, Routes and Airlines
On the busiest travel days - typically the day before Thanksgiving and the days leading up to and following Christmas - airfares are more expensive. If you are willing to fly on days that are not as popular, you will pay less. If you are willing to travel on the actual holiday, your savings will be even greater.
Although direct flights may be more convenient, if you are willing to have a layover during your holiday travel you can save money. Also, be sure to check not only the airport closest to you and your destination, but also check the cost of other airports in the area. Sometimes the difference in airports can increase your savings.
You shouldn't limit yourself to one airline either. Thanks to reasonably priced one-way airline tickets, you may be able to find less expensive airfare by booking through more than one airline.
3. Research Various Websites to Check for the Best Deals
There are numerous websites where you can purchase airline tickets. From Travelocity and Orbitz to the airlines' own websites. Don't just check one website and choose the best fare there. Check several of the websites to compare. Also, if you find a great airfare on a discount travel website, double-check the airline's website. Sometimes the airline will be offering the same deal on its own website without any additional fees the broker website may charge.
Remember, not all airlines have their fares available on discount websites. Typically smaller carriers - including Southwest, JetBlue, and regional airlines - do not have airfares on those websites. Be sure to check those carriers' websites too.
By considering travel packages, you can also save more on your holiday travel. Many websites will offer you special rates if you book your airfare, car rental, and/or hotel stay at the same time. Be sure to research these packages when planning your holiday trip.
4. Pack Lightly and Wisely When Flying to Avoid Fees
Real Simple warns you to beware of additional fees whenever possible. Many airlines charge fees per bag, so pack light. If you think you may go over the bag weight limit and you need everything you are packing, a second bag may cost less than the fees for overweight bags. Each carrier varies, but according to Southwest Airlines - which does not charge bag fees - some airlines may charge as much as $120 for two bags roundtrip.
Also, be sure to register your bags online instead of at the airport since many airlines will charge lower fees online.
You can use your carryon luggage to save money too. Packing snacks or even a small meal into your carryon will allow you to not have to pay the higher cost of food on the plane and at the airport. Just remember, you cannot pack liquids, like water or soda, in your carryon bags before you go through security. Beverages will have to be purchased either on the plane or in the terminal.
5. Utilize Frequent Flyer Deals and Hotel Reward Programs
If you belong to a frequent flyer program, look into deals and ways to pay for your holiday flight using your accrued points. If you plan to use your frequent flyer miles, be sure to book your flight early as many airlines limit the amount of frequent flyer fares that are available on certain flights. Also, you will need to be flexible with your travel dates since some of these programs have blackout dates.
If you are not part of a frequent flyer program, sign up for one before your holiday travel so you can enjoy frequent flyer deals next year. AskMen.com has a comprehensive article on how to maximize frequent flyer deals.
The same concept applies for hotel reward programs. Many hotel chains offer loyalty programs to encourage you to stay at their hotels by offering a point accrual system. Points can be redeemed for free nights in the hotel or merchandise.
6. Take the Train or Drive to Your Destination if You Can
Not all holiday trips need to involve a plane. In fact, if your travel destination is within a day's drive, you may be able to save significant money on your holiday travel. By driving to your destination, you will not have to pay airfare or for a car rental. Be sure to calculate the cost of gas and meals (or bring your own food to save more money) to make sure it is worth the drive.
If you choose to drive, have your car serviced before you leave. Nothing can ruin a holiday road trip like car trouble. Also, the California Travel Center recommends the following driving tips to improve your gas mileage:
According to Triple A, three percent of holiday travelers - roughly 2.9 million people - will board buses or trains this holiday season. If your travel destination is accessible by train, this may be a less expensive method to travel and still will not require you to drive.
7. Don't Book Large Parties all at Once
According to Jennifer Calonia at Go Banking Rates, many major airlines have about ten different pricing levels for seats. When you book a large party all at once, your entire party will most likely be charged at the highest rate of the seats in the party. By booking in smaller groups, you may be able to get at least some of the seats at a lower rate and save hundreds of dollars overall.
Take the Time and Save Money
By taking a few extra steps and following the holiday travel tips above, you may be able to save some significant money this holiday season.