I’ll admit that I gave up on flying for holidays nearly a decade ago. My family lives six hours away, and I eventually found that it’s cheaper and easier to drive. I did fly for several years, however, and picked up a few tips for saving money on holiday travel. These tips may even save you a bit of time.
Use Airline Miles to Fly
If you need to book flights for your holiday travel, planning ahead is the best way to save money. This won’t help you this Christmas, but it will help you next Christmas. If you plan to use miles and want to use the smallest amount necessary, plan to book in January or February. Most airlines release frequent flyer seats 333 days ahead of the flight. If you want to be sure you get the flights you want, call the airline January 1 to find out when they’ll be releasing seats for next December.
If you’re willing to spend more miles, most airlines offer “anytime” miles. You can book as late as the day before the flight, but you may also have to pay a fee. If you plan to fly during the peak holiday season and don’t book soon enough, this may be your only option.
Shop for Flights Online
If you can pay for your holiday flights, use sites like Kayak and Sidestep to research prices. If you can wait until three months before your flight to book, use Farecast. It predicts whether prices for your flight will rise or fall during the next three months. If you’re traveling for Christmas, it’s a safe bet the price will rise, so you might as well book now. You can also try Priceline, but overbooked airlines may not need to release seats to discounters during the holidays so your options may be more limited.
Try Alternative Airports
Often, an alternative airport may not be that much further away that your primary destination, but the price will be much lower. For example, flying to Burbank or Ontario instead of LAX can save you a few dollars. For New York, check Newark and Islip. Ask relatives in your destination which airports might be good alternatives for you.
If possible, book a nonstop flight. Not only will you avoid long delays if your connection is in a storm region, but you won’t find yourself overpaying to eat unhealthy airport food while you wait for your flight.
Be Flexible in Your Holiday Travel Dates
For short flights, you can fly early on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. You’ll avoid the airport rush and probably save money on the flight itself because fewer people fly those days.
Avoid Airport Parking
Don’t even bother taking your car to the airport. Airport slots fill up fast during the holidays and even the off-site private lots may be full before you arrive. Instead, book a shuttle several weeks in advance. Most offer discounts for multiple passengers from one location. Supershuttle offers a discount for AAA members and you can book online. Check the AAA site for your region to find your discount code.
Avoid Baggage Charges
Carefully check the baggage limits for your airline before you leave. If you have many gifts to bring, consider mailing them a week ahead of your arrival. Not only will you avoid having your gifts stolen by airport employees, you won’t get socked with a $50 or $75 excess weight charge at the airport.
Book Hotels Early
If you plan to stay in a hotel the night before your flight or in the middle of a long drive, book your hotel early. That will ensure you get a good room rate. If you wait until that day, they may quote you the rack rate because they know you’re desperate. If you’re driving, plan your stop in advance. Although most roadside motels are part of chain, prices vary. You may also find that there’s no room at the inn when you’re ready to stop if you don’t book ahead.
Holiday travel is challenging no matter what you do, but the money you save by planning ahead may be the one bright spot in that holiday flight.