6 Great Ways to Save on Holiday Travel

The holidays are around the corner – is it time to start shopping? Maybe not until you book your travel. Fares are up more than usual this year.

Although year-end airfares are always high because of the holiday demand, CNN is reporting average airfares for Thanksgiving week are 6 percent above last year’s. Fares in December are expected to be up 10 percent over last year, and if you have multiple people traveling, that could be a big hit.

In the video below, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson has tips to keep holiday travel costs to a minimum. Check it out, and then read on for more.

With fares higher than last year’s, every trick to save can help keep your budget for gifts and holiday fun closer to what you planned. Let’s recap the tips from the video and expand on them…

1. Use frequent flier miles.

As Money Talks News writer Jason Steele mentioned in the video above, award seats will get snatched up fast, so use your miles to zero your ticket price while you can. In 6 Tips for Getting the Most From Your Frequent Flier Miles, he offers travel tricks for making those miles really count, like using US Airways points on their partner airlines’ flights, which often require fewer points. And as he pointed out in another story, you can pool United and Continental points until the end of the year because of their merger.

2. Try ground travel for shorter distances.

Kim Hinton from Red Coach explained in the video that bus travel can save up to 80 percent versus air travel. These days, bus rides are comparable to flying in almost all but price. In fact, some are more comfortable than flying. Many now offer Wi-Fi, power outlets for laptops, extra legroom, and even “in-ride” movies.

Different lines serve different areas. Red Coach goes up the East Coast from Miami to Atlanta, Boltbus from D.C. to NYC, and Megabus runs in the Northeast into the Midwest. (There’s enough competition in the Northeast that it’s worth comparing rates on a site like BusJunction.com.) Greyhound goes across the country, although their new buses with the amenities listed above don’t – they’re only available on “select routes.”

You could also rent a fuel-efficient vehicle with unlimited mileage for about $25 a day – just make sure it’s still cheaper than flying after gas costs. (Our story Fly or Drive? 9 Factors to Consider might help.)

3. Book ASAP.

Last-minute deals do open up, but is that a bet you want to take? FareCompare.com estimates that starting with the last week of October, consumers are paying on average an extra $5 per day they wait to book holiday tickets and notes, “Last year, the airlines increased the majority of fares by more than $100 from Oct. 10 through Nov. 19.” The best savings at this point probably require flying on the day of the holiday. Flying back the day after Christmas or New Year’s is the most expensive.

4. Check alternatives.

Being picky about airports can cost you. That’s why travel search engines like Kayak include that little box that says “add nearby airports” – check it and you might see lower rates. For example, testing a round trip ticket from Miami to Los Angeles found a low price of $430 the week before Christmas, but when including nearby airports, Kayak found a $389 ticket flying out of Fort Lauderdale instead.

Flexibility in general tends to save money. Don’t demand a certain flight date, time, or airline and you might save even more. If you’re extremely flexible, you might even make money by flying. How? Book a departure time and date on a busy flight day, then volunteer to get bumped from an overbooked flight and score a travel voucher and a free trip on a later flight. CheapFlights.com has a strategy for getting bumped and details on how it works, but just remember nothing’s guaranteed. You may not get bumped, or you may not be able to get on another flight for several hours and get stuck waiting overnight.

5. Get an agent.

While travel agents charge a fee, they may pay for themselves, especially if you consider time and hassle part of the cost. As Stacy explained in 4 Reasons I’m Done Booking Online Flights, for $26 and a 5-minute phone call he got an expert who knows all the angles to check, has a relationship with the airlines, and can pull strings for things like free exit row seats.

6. Travel light, with food.

Fees and meals at the airport can be a hefty part of travel costs. Some airlines still allow free checked bags (JetBlue gives one, Southwest two) and you can often get away with two carry-ons if they’re small and one looks like a laptop bag or briefcase, which are usually considered “personal carry-on items.” Pack a snack or two and you can skip the overpriced restaurants near the gate or the even more expensive ones on the plane.

Want more advice on flying for when you’ve got extra time to plan? Check out 7 Steps to Cheaper Airfares.

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