10 Tips to Get the Lowest Fares for Holiday Travel

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You’ve barely put away the beach toys, but now it’s time to book holiday travel. Don't delay.

Traveling this holiday season? The earlier you book, the more you’ll save — as much as nearly 60 percent, according to Hipmunk.com.

Kayak.com, which analyzed last year’s prices, says, “Procrastinators beware: After mid-October, airfares for Thanksgiving increased up to 17 percent, 51 percent for Christmas and 25 percent for New Year’s Eve.”

If the cost of holiday travel has you feeling humbug, check out Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson’s tips on how to save in the video below. Then catch us on the other side for more information about how to reduce your holiday travel costs.

1. Book early

Airlines are making fewer seats available — which likely contributed to an early 2013 prediction that ticket prices would rise 7 percent this year. Seats fill up quickly.  Kayak.com says you’ll find the best airfare for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s between now and mid-October. International fares also increase as we get closer to the holidays.

2. Be flexible

Look at alternate dates and airports to find better fares. We checked round-trip prices from Boston to Chicago on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, returning the Sunday after. The cheapest ticket was $507. But changing the dates to the Saturday before and the Saturday after the holiday brought the ticket down to $195. Sites such as TravelMath.com can help you find airports near your destination.

3. Use frequent-flier miles

If you’re using miles, booking early gives you the best chance of finding flights. Check out “6 Tips for Getting the Most From Your Frequent-Flier Miles.”

4. Use a travel agent

Travel agents can save you time and headaches, and they can be invaluable if a problem arises. See “4 Reasons I’m Done Booking Online Flights” to learn why using an agent can sometimes be your best bet.

5. Book a bundled trip

A package deal may end up being cheaper than booking airfare and hotel separately, and sometimes a package can be cheaper than airfare alone. If you don’t need a hotel, but the package price is cheaper than just the airfare, make sure you won’t be charged a penalty if you never check in.

6. Add a stop

If you have the time and the patience, you can save money by taking a connecting flight. Of course you have to weigh the risk and benefit of this strategy if you’re traveling to snowy or icy places in winter.

7. Book one-way tickets on different airlines

Sometimes you’ll land a bargain by booking one-way tickets on different airlines, especially when you’re going to a city with multiple airports.

8. Fly, then drive

Going to Sioux Falls, S.D.? It’s a small airport, with typically higher fares. If you have a little extra time, fly into Omaha for less and drive the rest of the way. When we checked a trip from Miami to Sioux Falls, the price was $640. Changing the destination to Omaha dropped the price to $367.

9. Watch fares after your purchase too

Yapta.com will alert you if your fare drops. You could end up pocketing some cash if the cost to re-book is cheaper than a change fee.

10. Go to Europe

Obviously Europeans don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, and business travel between here and Europe takes a break that week. We found a relatively inexpensive $956 round-trip fare between Miami and London for Nov. 20-30.

Bonus tips

  • Skip the plane. We found round-trip bus fares between Washington, D.C., and Boston for the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, returning on the Sunday after, that cost $90 and $166, depending on the bus company. Comparable airfare was $398.
  • Travel light. Southwest allows two checked bags for free. JetBlue allows one. Airline credit cards and loyalty programs may offer free checked baggage too. Or you can save money and time by taking only a carry-on bag. Stacy went to Europe for 10 days with just a carry-on.
  • Pack food. You know how expensive food can be in the airport, so bring your own. Want to take your famous pumpkin pie or spice cake to the family holiday celebration? You can take them through the security checkpoint, but they’re subject to additional screening. Toss cranberry sauce in your checked luggage, though. Also, wrap your gifts after the flight or ship them, so you don’t have the hassle of airport security officers unwrapping them.

What are your favorite money-saving tips for holiday travel? Let us know on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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