Sound Money Matters will be silent next week. I will be on vacation and decided that rather than rushing to write advance posts or find a bunch of guest posts, I’d simply let the blog have a vacation, too. Of course, that also means that I’ve been in a vacation planning rush so that I can “maximize my downtime,” as it were. Here are my tips for a frugal, relaxing vacation.

Keep a Standard Packing List
Before every trip, I make a list of what I need to pack. After a recent trip, I took that list and typed it up into a Word document. That is now my master packing list that I can update for each particular trip. It saves me at least half an hour and because I created it over time as I thought of things, I know it’s complete. No more leaping out of bed the night before the trip when I realize I forgot to pack my allergy meds!

Research Activities and Restaurants Ahead of Time
Obviously, you should leave some of your time for relaxing or spontaneous activities, but it does help to do some preliminary research on the options and plan a loose itinerary. If you’re on a special diet like me, it’s especially important to research allergen-friendly restaurants ahead of time. You might even call ahead to make reservations for a few meals.

Look for Coupons in Advance
About a month before you leave, look for online coupons for activities and restaurants in your vacation spot. JD at Get Rich Slowly recommends buying an Entertainment Book for the area, which will come in handy if you can manage to mostly eat at locations that offer Entertainment Book coupons.

“Plan” to Relax
For some trips, I plan a full itinerary. For example, our Irish honeymoon involved driving across the country, so most of our trip had to be planned in advance. However, when we went to Belize, we had a few ideas for what we wanted to do and also “planned” to spend a day on the resort property. That morning, we wandered around the property’s wild areas, went horseback riding, then my husband went into town to buy some Christmas presents while I got a massage. He returned to pick me up, then we went into town for dinner and to finish up our shopping. Since we weren’t overly scheduled, we actually returned home relaxed, even though there were a couple days when we had to get up at six a.m. for day trips.

Don’t Check Email!
My upcoming trip is sort of a working vacation at a conference I’m attending for a personal interest, so I will probably check my email once a day, but I didn’t check email when I was in Belize. I didn’t even give anyone at work the name or info for the resort. My husband gave the info to his office, but we realized at the end of the trip that the room was under my name and they had no record of his name (we don’t share a last name). So, he was effectively out of touch. You know what happened? Nothing. We returned home to discover that no crises had occurred. So, no matter how important you think you are, your clients, employees, employers, etc., can do without you for a week or two. Really. Heck, the governor of a whole state managed to skip town without leaving contact info and his state got by just fine (except for the ensuing scandal.)

Just a little advance planning and a commitment to relaxing (an oxymoron, I know, but it’s something we Americans aren’t good at), you can have a frugal, relaxing vacation and come home ready to return to the office.

Yellowstone National ParkOne of the best trips my husband and I ever took was our National Park loop. We started in Sedona, where we stayed two nights, then we traveled up to the Grand Canyon National Park for two nights. From there we proceeded to Bryce Canyon National Park for another two, and then finally hopped over to Zion National Park for two more nights. Even though we accidentally went during monsoon season (why didn’t any of our Arizona friends warn us?), it was a fantastic trip made even better by its affordability.

The National Park Pass
If you’re just going to one National Park, the entrance fee is $20 per car ( a few parks are $25). The pass is good for seven days, and doesn’t matter how many people you have in the car. If you’re arriving on foot, bus, motorcycle, or horseback, it’s $10/person (a few parks are $12), also good for 7 days.

If you’re visiting more than four parks on a single trip, or plan to visit more than four parks this year, spring for the America the Beautiful pass, which is $80 for one year. If you’re over the age of 62, a lifetime pass is just $62! If you have a permanent disability, the lifetime pass is free.

All of my relatives have ordered their passes when they turned 62. There’s no reason not to and the funds support our National Parks.

Camping in National Parks
Most National Parks offer camping. The few that don’t have camp sites inside the park have commercial campsite nearby and operate shuttles to those campsites. We ran into the problem at Bryce. However, the external sites were reasonably-priced and very close to the park. We actually got to camp in a teepee!

Of course, National Park campsites book up fast. Most use to reserve campsites, although the more popular campgrounds sometimes have their own reservations systems. The key to snagging a reservation is advance camping trip planning.

If you can’t camp, look into cabin sites or nearby private campgrounds. You can also try local hotels or motels, which may be more affordable than a hotel in a major city.

There are many advantages to camping however:

  • Food is cheaper because you cook it yourself
  • No taxes or additional fees except the reservation and entrance fees
  • Roasting marshmallows over a fire
  • Relaxing around a fire
  • Seeing stars and hearing wildlife

In addition, most parks offer Ranger activities for kids and evening talks and campfires. There’s never a lack of things to do in a national park! Once you’re in a park, you can usually use the park shuttle to get around, so you can leave your car at the campsite, which saves on gas (and helps reduce pollution in our National Parks.)

Top Ten National Parks
If I’ve whet your appetite for a National Park vacation, consider these ten most popular parks:

  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Grand Canyon National Park
  • Yosemite National Park
  • Grand Tetons National Park
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  • Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Zion National Park
  • Cuyahoga National Park
  • Acadia National Park

Still not convinced? Check out these Yellowstone National Park pictures. That ought to get you in the mood for an affordable camping vacation!

My trip cost less than $800 for nine days for two people. That included food, gas, a national park pass, six camping nights, two nights in a hotel due to monsoons (seriously, a warning would have been nice), and a $180 rental car because neither of us wanted to take our cars. Four people only would have cost an extra $100 for food.

It took me nearly two weeks, but yesterday I triumphed over an airline and will be receiving a $150 refund within the next 7 days. This was a unique situation, and the facts were on my side, but I also had to be persistent in order to get my money back.

The Situation
An event I’m planning to attend was scheduled for Nashville. Well, the hotel where the event was taking place was destroyed due to the record flooding. After the hotel canceled the event, the organization planning it quickly found a new location in another city. Unfortunately, that required me to change my plane ticket. I’d used miles to book, so I immediately called to reschedule while they still had awards flights left. Then, the organization negotiated with several airlines to get change fees waived. The problem: I’d already paid one, to the tune of $150.

How I Handled My Airline Refund Request
First, I called reservations, the only phone number you can find for United. The reservations agent said he couldn’t refund the fee and did everything he could to keep me from speaking to a supervisor. He told me I had to email customer relations. You can’t call customer relations. Apparently they don’t have a phone.

Five days after I emailed, exactly as promised, I received a response: since this is for future travel, I had to call reservations.

Huge sigh. I called reservations and spent 45 minutes on the phone trying two things: 1. to get a refund, and 2. to speak to a supervisor. I was now informed that I had to email refunds, not customer relations. Again, they don’t have a phone, so I couldn’t call them.

I sent off another email, and included these things:

  • My confirmation number
  • The previous email chain
  • A summary of my attempts to get help
  • The paragraph from the organization detailing United’s agrement
  • A link to the organization’s list of airlines offering change fee waivers
  • A PDF of the organization’s location change confirmation letter.

I was polite in the letter, and laid out all the facts. I simply requested a refund per their agreement.

Yesterday, I received an email that I would receive a refund.

I do realize this is a special situation – not everyone has to change their tickets because their destination is underwater. In fact, I was rather surprised that the airlines had no policy for handling the Nashville disaster, even though they have for most other disasters. My suspicion is that Nashville’s flood occurred too close to the Iceland disaster, which cost billions, and the airline didn’t feel like losing more money.

Nevertheless, the facts were on my side and I eventually won my case. I was polite the entire time. I also accrued the award miles that I used to buy the ticket through actual flights rather than rewards programs, so I wonder if that helped bolster my case – I spent actual money with the airline to earn this reward.

But this is a lesson – you can get what you need if you’re persistent, polite, and have a good case. It may take a while, but you’ll get there.

‘Tis the season of holiday travel delays. From closed roads to cancelled flights, it can be challenging to travel anywhere during the winter holidays, but millions of us will do it anyway. I’ve posted several times about planning for holiday travel, but this post is more specific: how to plan for nearly inevitable holiday travel delays.

Preparing for Road Delays
A freak winter storm, heavy fog, a rockslide, an avalanche, icy conditions, or an accident can all result in closed roads. If you have to drive this holiday, take these few precautions.

Research Backroads in Advance
You don’t want to take a last-minute mountain pass that you’ve never driven before in the dead of winter. Research your roads carefully in advance. Look for alternates that are near the main highway and avoid passes through high elevations. If your map says “closed during winter,” strike it from your list. If you’re not sure about a road’s status, call the highway service to confirm before you leave.

Monitor the Weather
Check the weather daily before your trip. If a storm develops, consider leaving a day early or a day late to avoid the middle of the storm. If you must drive on a stormy day, leave early enough to make sure you get through the worst part while it’s still daylight. Once it’s dark and temperatures drop further, even major roads could close.

Pack Snacks and Blankets
You never know when you might get stuck in an hours-long backup. If it gets bad enough, you might have to turn off the car to avoid running out of gas on the highway. So, bring snacks, car games, and blankets with you in the car. If you don’t use them, they’ll at least make nice pillows so the passengers can close their eyes for a few minutes.

Avoid Eating or Drinking Too Much
You don’t want to get dehydrated, but avoid eating or drinking heavily just in case you get stuck in a backup between bathrooms. If traffic is truly snarled, it could be hours before you can get out of the car again.

Keep Your Cell Phone Charged
Keep your cell phone charger in the car and make sure your phone is charged so you can call for help in a worst-case scenario. Also bring a list of hotels along the route in case the road is so bad you have to pull off for the night. Call ahead to book a room as soon as you know you’ll be stranded. Don’t wait until you get there or they might be sold out.

Preparing for Air Delays
On top of the usual spate of winter storms closing airports and delaying flights, now British Airways has announced a holiday strike. While I don’t expect there will be additional strikes, you should be prepared for other possibilities.

Bring Your Cell Phone and a List of Numbers
If your flight is cancelled, don’t get in that long line of people waiting to rebook. Instead, call the airline’s reservations number (which you should have with you) from your cell phone. They can probably arrange new flights faster than you’d get to the front of the line. If all flights will be cancelled for days, call hotels, car rental companies, or Amtrak from your cell phone rather than waiting in line. You’ll have much better luck. True, you might not get a free voucher, but it’s better than sleeping on the airport floor if they run out of vouchers before you reach the front of the line.

Bring Snacks and Entertainment
Most airlines don’t serve free food anymore, so you probably already packed some snacks, but pack extras for winter travel. My family was once stranded at the Philadelphia airport on a wintry Sunday for ten hours. The airport actually ran out of food. My dad bought the last pizza, and sold our extra slices to other passengers (for less than the airport’s price). Pack books or games to help pass the time between those long delays, too. Save your DVDs for the flight where you’ll be able to access a plug. Don’t bet on snagging one of the few airport plugs if flights are delayed.

Bring Your Patience
Flight delays are the worst, but there’s really nothing you can do except roll with it. Don’t snap at the workers or other passengers. You’re all in this together and it’s the holidays. Try to be pleasant and hopefully others will do the same.

Pack Essentials in Your Carry-on
Between delayed flights and crowded planes, the likelihood of losing your bags increases. So, pack a change of clothes, medications, and a few other essentials in your carry-on just in case. It’s not like you won’t use them at some point on your trip.

Everyone hopes for a smooth trip, but it’s better to be prepared than to be surprised. I’ve never regretted taking those few extra steps when preparing for my annual trek over the mountain pass or down to the airport.

We’re T -3 to Thanksgiving, so it’s time to kick it into high-gear. Since I have experience both hosting and traveling, I’ve got Thanksgiving countdowns for both options.

Thanksgiving Travelers’ Schedule
If you have to travel, I feel your pain. I flew home for several years, until it became too expensive and started to take nearly as long as the drive. I switched to driving 11 years ago. It’s awful, but better than the airport. (Shudder.) Here are my tips for a reduced-stress trip.

Make your packing list. If you have kids, make their lists, too.
Make sure everything on the packing list is clean. If not, do laundry.
Check the weather for both your departure and return days. Plan alternate routes if you’re driving and there may be snow along your preferred route.
If you’re flying, make a parking reservation if you haven’t already.
Refer to my list of Thanksgiving travel tips to make sure everything is covered.

Get out the suitcases.
Buy snacks and water.
Double-check your backroads.
Pack car games or something for the airport/plane.
Stop the newspaper/mail (if you’ll be gone long enough).
If you have pets, confirm with their caretaker and exchange keys.
If you’re flying, check in online.

Pack final toiletries, pajamas, etc.
Pack the car.
Put everyone in the car.
Leave as early as possible.

Make yourself useful to the host or get out of the way.
Eat, eat, eat, eat!

Thanksgiving Hosts’ Schedule
If you’re hosting, then your work is just beginning. Hopefully you’ve shopped for most of the food, but I’ve included a shopping trip in case you’re using a fresh turkey that will need to be picked up.

Make bread if using for stuffing so it will have time to get a bit stale.
Set bread out to dry.
Make up guest rooms.
Put fresh towels in guest baths.
Make final shopping list.
Put turkey in fridge to defrost if using frozen and not brining. If you are brining it, it should already be defrosting.
Make Thursday cooking schedule, counting backwards from the time you want to eat.

Chill the wine.
Make rolls.
Mix dip or other appetizers.
Make pie crust.
Pick up turkey.
Begin brining turkey if brining it.
Make cranberry sauce it not using canned.

Make pie.
Cook appetizers.
Put brined turkey in fridge to rest so skin is nice and crispy.
Wash china/crystal.
Polish silver.
Iron linens.
Set table.
Make stuffing.

Wipe down bathrooms.
Stuff turkey.
Put turkey in oven immediately.
Make side dishes.
Make salad.
Warm and plate appetizers.
Remove turkey, let rest.
Heat rolls.
Make gravy.
Serve cranberry sauce.
Eat, eat, eat, eat.

Enjoy leftovers.

Today’s guest post comes from Mr. Credit Card. If you like this, subscribe to his feed for more great stuff.

Hi, I’m Mr Credit Card and I write and review credit cards at my site I started this site because while I was looking for a credit card a few years ago, I could not find any site that really reviews credit cards in depth. If you are looking for a new card, please check out my best credit cards recommended list.

Like Aryn, I have been an avid user of credit cards and taking advantage of rewards. I have not taken advantage of any 0% APR offers or even any sign up bonuses for points. What I have done is just to make use of a couple of cards and racked up lots of points which I used for airline tickets and cash rebates. Aryn wrote a guest post on my blog telling us how she is looking to earn miles for her next trip to Australia. Today, I am going to share some tips on saving money on your airline travel and perhaps highlight some tips for her as well.

One of the keys to saving money on airline tickets, like Aryn mentioned, is obviously to get chalk up reward points or frequent flier points. Aryn mentioned that she has the Delta Skymiles Credit Card. But there are obviously other cards which you can use. The average number of points required for a domestic round trip economy restricted flight is about 25,000 to 30,000 points. Hence, spending that amount of your credit card in a year (not an unreasonable assumption) is already one free ticket.

Earn more miles with a business credit card – When I started my first job in sales, my company gave me a business credit card. It was a gold Amex charge card. The company I worked for allowed me to accumulated membership reward points. So whenever I took clients out for dinners and entertainment or flew an airline, I used the my business card and racked up points really fast. And since the points do not expire, I could wait for the right moment to get the right airline tickets. After I was issued the card by my company, I immediately got out and got an Amex Gold Card for personal use. Since I can link my account, I can earn points even faster (though it would not have as fast if I did not have the business card).

But even entrepreneurs can take advantage and get a business credit card that matches their lifestyle and reward goals and rack up points quickly. Since most business expenses are larger than household expenses, you can earn points really quickly.

Ask for everything under the sun when you book your hotels – My wife Mrs Credit Card used to work in hotel sales. So whenever we go on vacation, she does the booking because she knows what to ask for. Regardless of what hotel or where you book, here are somethings you simply want to ask for.

  • complimentary late checkout – even if you do not intend to (but it is an option). Ask early
  • complimentary breakfast – some hotels would not give you if you do not ask!
  • good room views – always ask for a good room view and chances are that you will get the best one available
  • ask for corner rooms – as they tend to be bigger and quieter because they are away from the elevators
  • ask for a room on a higher floor
  • ask for special room upgrade

How to ask for room upgrade – I want to devote a little time on this topic because there is an art in going about doing this. Firstly, ask when you are booking over the phone if they have complimentary upgrades. Mention that you have this credit card or that you are a member of AAA and ask if there are any special deals.

Also, ask if there is any promotions for room upgrades. Hotels have programs where they up sell rooms. Sometimes, an extra $20 or $50 fro example can get you a suite upgrade.

If it does not work over the phone, ask when you check in. Be polite. Say something like you are not feeling well or that your kids are cranky and not feeling well and ask if they could upgrade your room. Smile too!

With a little luck, you can get a much nicer room than you paid for.

Book hotels directly with the hotel – I have the Amex Platinum Card and one of the perks is that you earn double points for booking through their travel site (which by the way is powered by Travelocity). I did that once and when I wanted to cut short my stay when I was already at the hotel, I was told I could get no refund from the hotel and instead had to go back to Travelocity. Even Amex could not really help me.

When you book directly with the hotel, you can request for all the stuff that I just mentioned and if you need to change your schedule, they can do it. Once you book through a travel agent, your booking falls under a separate system. By the way, Aryn also recommends booking your flights directly with the airline.

Join the frequent guest program of the hotel you are staying in – Once you have booked the hotel, immediately join the frequent guest program and make sure your points are credited into your account when you check in. But more importantly, frequent guest program offer meal vouchers and discounts. Hence, you should always be on the lookout for promotional codes and vouchers. During my last stay at the Hyatt, I got a $150 mean voucher simple from getting the code from Hyatt’s Passport website.

Transfer Miles and Earn More Miles – Right now, Aryn is trying to save miles for a trip to Australia. One tactic she can consider is to transfer miles. Delta Skymiles is now having a promotion where you can transfer miles to someone else and get 50% more miles. This offer is valid until 31st December 2009. Aryn can transfer miles to her hubby and vice-versa

She can also consider getting a Starwood credit card since she is a member of Starwood Preferred Guest program. Starwood allows you to transfer points 1:1 to most airlines and you will get a bonus 5,000 miles when you transfer 20,000 points into miles!

Ending Thoughts – There are numerous other ways to save and earn miles for your next vacation. I have just touched the tip of the iceberg. I hope you have found these tips helpful. Just a reminder, Aryn has written some great travel tips in the past:

  • How to Pay Bills While On Vacation
  • Cheapest source of Foreign Currency On Vacation
  • Today’s post is for the ladies. I hate clothes shopping. I don’t love spending money. There are many things on which I’m not willing to spend much money, but there are three items that I will absolutely not be skimp on: bras, annual exams, traveling alone at night.

    Buy Well-Fitting Bras
    I know, you can go to the drugstore and get a bra in a cardboard container for $15, but I don’t suggest it. I’m also not saying you need to spend $300 on the La Perla lace dream. However, you should make a point of visiting a store to be properly fitted at least once a year and plan on spending at least $50 on a good, basic, well-fitting bra. Trust me, it’s better for your body and your other clothes will fit better. Wearing an ill-fitting bra not only makes you look dumpy.

    How to Get Fitted
    You’ll have to comfortable having a woman measure you, but this is okay. I recommend visiting Nordstrom or a specialty bra store known for fitting women of all sizes. Nordstorm saleswomen go through extensive training before they start fitting bras. Victoria’s Secret says they fit bras, but they don’t carry all sizes, so they can’t truly fit you for the correct size.

    Each brand will fit a little different, so you may have to go up or down one cup size for a proper fit. That’s fine. Don’t, however, buy the claim that you can wear a 36A if they’re out of 34Bs. The cup may be the same size, but the bra isn’t. Visit a store that has your size.

    Get Annual Exams – Even If You Don’t Have Insurance
    If you don’t have insurance, your annual pap smear can be expensive. Given the discomfort involved, you might see your lack of insurance as a boon and opt to skip the exam. Don’t. Most communities have low-cost women’s health clinics or you can visit Planned Parenthood (they provide all kinds of care involving reproductive health.)

    You should get an annual exam even if you don’t need birth control, have been monogamous, or aren’t currently sexually active. A pap smear is still the only way to check for cervical cancer. Although most cervical cancers are caused by HPV, some aren’t, so you need to be checked even if you’ve never had HPV. You’ll also receive a breast exam while there, which is another key to maintaining good health.

    Stay Safe When Traveling Alone at Night
    When I’m in a big city, I don’t mind walking or taking mass transit, except at night. If I’m traveling alone at night, I opt for a cab. Yes, the subway is cheaper than a cab, but it’s not safe to ride alone late at night. You never know what might happen. You should be safe on the bus, but waiting at a deserted bus stop can be dangerous.

    If you’re driving along the highway late at night, don’t stop at rest stops to use the restroom. Always wait for a restaurant or gas station with a 24-hour attendant. People have been murdered at rest stops during the night. Don’t take the chance. If you have to buy something in order to use the bathroom, do it. The cost of a cup of coffee or a candy bar is a small price to pay for safety.

    I’ll admit that I’ve bought cheap bras and been tempted to ride the subway at night. Fortunately, I let my comfort and safety outweigh my desire to save money. Ladies, if there are three areas where you sacrifice frugality for your greater good, these are them.

    Before my honeymoon, my dad gave me great advice for avoiding hefty foreign transaction fees and ATM charges. The advice has served me well, and served several friends well. Now I’ll share it with you.

    Best Places to Get Foreign Currency
    You’ll need some cash while traveling in a foreign country. If you’re traveling in the Caribbean or parts of Central America, you can usually use US dollars without trouble, but you’ll need the local currency in most other places.

    The very best place to get local currency is an ATM. Before you leave, call your bank to do two things:
    1. Inform them of your destinations and travel dates so they don’t lock down your card for suspicious activity.
    2. Ask if they have any agreements with banks in your destination country that will let you use the other bank’s ATMs without a foreign ATM fee. You’ll still have to pay a foreign currency conversion fee (usually 1-3%), but at least you’ll avoid the extra $3-$5 fee. The list of countries varies by bank, and changes regularly.

    If your bank doesn’t have agreements with other banks, take out cash in larger increments to avoid racking up too many ATM fees.

    If you’re using US dollars, your hotel can change your money, but you’ll receive a poor exchange rate and they may charge you a fee.

    Currency Exchanges
    These should be your last resort. They charge high fees and offer poor exchange rates. If you must use them, get just enough cash to get your from the airport or train station to town where you can find an ATM.

    Using Credit Cards in Foreign Countries
    You should always take 1 or 2 credit cards with you when traveling abroad, even if you don’t like to use credit. You never know when you’re going to be in a jam and need money instantly. Even though debit cards can be used like credit cards, I’d feel more secure with the flexibility a real credit card offers. Recently, I’ve seen several horror stories of people having their cards locked or closed while traveling. Always bring a back-up just to be safe. Even if you don’t use it, you’ll have peace of mind.

    If you primarily use an American Express or Discover card, you can take those with you, but always bring a Visa or MasterCard, too. What the commercials say is true – not everyone takes American Express, but they all take Visa or MasterCard if they accept credit cards.

    Before leaving for your trip, call your credit card companies to do three things:
    1. Notify them of your destinations and travel dates so they don’t lock your card.
    2. Get their toll-free foreign number in case something goes wrong with your card. American Express also gave me an emergency number in case we had a non-credit-related emergency, but most other issuers don’t do that.
    3. Ask what their foreign transaction fee is. Fees are typically 1-3%. One of my cards had a 1% fee, one had a 2% fee, and one had a 3% fee. I brought the 1% and 2% cards and used the 1% card most of the time.

    Some hotels and stores will offer to process the charge in US dollars. Ask to have it charged in local dollars. Some banks will charge you the foreign transaction fee even if the charge is in US dollars, and the store or hotel usually uses a less favorable exchange rate than the bank will.

    Finally, know the exchange rate so you can do quick calculations in your head. For example, the pound is usually double the dollar, so a $30 item in the UK, is $60 US dollars. On the other hand, Brazil’s currency is roughly half the dollar, so a $30 item there is $15 US dollars. Fix those figures in your mind to keep track of the amount you’re really spending.

    Now that you’re in a fee-avoiding frame of mind, check out my tips for packing a suitcase so you can avoid baggage fees.

    I know, I know, it’s still summer. But it’s already time to start planning for the holidays, especially if your holidays involve travel by air. Thanksgiving is 14 weeks away. In airline speak, it’s just around the corner. That also means Christmas is just 18 weeks away.

    Planning Thanksgiving Travel
    You don’t have to book your flights now, but you should plan to book them in early September before flights start selling out.

    Research Airfare Prices
    What you can do now is research current fares to get a feeling for average prices. You could save some money if you can travel Tuesday through Monday rather than the more popular Wednesday through Sunday, but you’ll need to coordinate your travel schedules and confirm you have enough vacation time for three days rather than one. Use to see whether prices to your destination are likely to rise or fall in the near future. Sign-up at to track prices by email. Then book directly with the airline to save money.

    Request Time-Off
    You may also need to submit a time-off request now to secure your dates if you’ll need extra vacation time beyond the usual Thursday/Friday office closures.

    Research Hotels and Car Rentals
    Most hotels and car rentals won’t book up until a month or two before Thanksgiving, but start investigating local reviews, tracking down discounts through your memberships, or finding out whether you can stay with friends or family.

    Make Restaurant Reservations
    If you typically eat at a restaurant on Thanksgiving, you may actually want to make the reservation now, or at least by late September. The best seatings at the best restaurants tend to book up fast.

    Planning Christmas Travel
    You definitely have time left to book Christmas travel. Unlike Thanksgiving, there isn’t a rush on one particular day of the Christmas season. They’re all busy. However, this year might be an exception because Christmas falls on a Friday, which means people who have to work on Monday will want to fly back Sunday.

    Book Awards Travel Now
    If you want to use miles to travel for Christmas, book it now. Already the most popular dates are filling up. Be prepared to be flexible in your dates or spend more miles if you have specific travel dates.

    Research Airfare Prices
    If you’re paying for your flights, start researching the best travel times and prices now, but wait to book. Fares often come down in the fall and winter, so you could see some reductions. However, there are fewer fights and more people competing for seats as the airlines cut costs, so don’t wait too long.

    Request Time Off
    Submit time off requests as soon as possible. Christmas is one of the most popular times of year to take vacation and some employers have policies restricting the number of people who can take time off at once. If your company has this type of policy, make sure you submit your request early.

    Make Special Reservations
    One year, my mom decided to take my sister and me into the city for high tea, but we called the hotel only to discover they’d been booked solid for a month. If you plan to attend any special events around the holiday season, find out if reservations are required and make them now to ensure you’ll be able to enjoy them.

    It’s a drag to start thinking about the holidays already, but you’ll be thankful when you score a great travel deal and have your plans sewn up while your friends and co-workers are scrambling to make theirs at the last minute. The holiday season is supposed to be about peace – so do the stressful stuff now and be peaceful this Thanksgiving and Christmas.

    Although some of the travel sites have dropped their booking fees, I still always use them for research and then book my flight directly with the airline. Today, I discovered the ultimate reward for that practice.

    Booking Directly Can Save Fees
    Most of the major travel sites make their money off fees they charge you for making the purchase. Travel agents are no longer paid by the airlines, so bookers are coming to consumers for their money. I will still compare flights on Orbitz or Farecast, then I go to the airline’s website to book the flight. The only time this doesn’t work is when the best fair is on a split itinerary with multiple airlines. Then you really do have to book through the travel site.

    Booking directly sometimes nets me a lower fare, too. In addition, some airlines give a mileage boost if you’re a rewards member and book online. Most have discontinued the practice, but they do hold occasional promotions.

    Book Directly if Your Plans May Change
    I had to book a flight for work. An hour after I booked it, the client changed the meeting date. I was ticked because I’d have to pay a $150 change fee. Then I discovered that United offers free cancellation for 24 hours if you book directly with them. Delta offers the same service until midnight of the next day. Not all airlines do this, but if your itinerary could change, make sure you choose an airline with this option.

    Book Directly to Reduce the Hassle
    Again, if your plans are likely to change, then booking with an airline reduces the hassle. The travel sites make you deal with their customer service reps who don’t have real power. You’ll spend hours on the phone arguing. If you booked with their airline, their reps are usually nice, helpful people who can actually do something for you.

    Book Directly to Avoid Being Scammed
    I’ll admit this is rare, but at least once a summer you hear about some traveler who was scammed by an online travel site that turned out to be a fraud. They were left with no tickets, no money, and no recourse. If you go directly to the airline’s website, you don’t have to worry about scams. Of course, you might miss out on some of the sweet deals that packagers offer, but if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.

    I rarely book travel through a travel website unless I need to score a hotel room deal on Priceline or TravelZoo or want luxury travel from LuxuryLink. Otherwise, I go directly to the airline. It’s the best way to save.

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