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10 ways to save on holiday travel

Key takeaways

  • Timing is everything with saving on holiday trips. When you book, when you travel, and even when you fill up your gas tank matter.
  • Travel-company promos and your credit card could be the ticket to saving even more.

It's almost never too early to start thinking about holiday travel plans if you don't want expensive airline tickets, hotel rooms, and car rental prices to distract you from finding some holiday cheer. Keep reading to get our present to you: 10 ways to help save on holiday travel.

1. Book early

According to Google Flight insights, deals for mid-December 2023 flights will be easiest to find in early October. Research from travel agency Hopper says similar. They suggest booking tickets for Thanksgiving and Christmas no later than the week of October 10, 2023.

Booking early could get you great prices for accommodations and rental cars too. "Travel pricing is very much on a supply-demand scale. As the need for a rental car, flight, or hotel room goes up, so does the price," explains Heather Christopher, owner and founder of HC Travel Firm. So make arrangements well in advance to beat the crush of holiday bookers that spike costs.

2. Choose off-peak flight dates

Weekday departures are often cheaper than weekend flights (except for Thanksgiving—flying the day or 2 before the holiday might cost more than the weekend prior). For a super deal, consider flying on the actual holiday. If you snag an early flight and manage to avoid delays and cancellations, you could make it to your destination in time for the big meal—with a slightly fuller wallet.

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3. Give travel companies a follow

Follow travel-industry businesses—such as airlines, hotel chains, and rideshare companies—on social media to see their posts about sales and other offers. Email newsletters are another way to find out about holiday deals.

4. Make your credit card work harder

If you use a credit card, you're likely racking up points with each purchase you make. See how many points you have and whether they're worth redeeming for airfare, accommodations, or other travel expenses. Don't forget to check whether you could earn extra points for booking travel through your credit card's reservations portal. If they're offering good prices, you could then put the additional points you earn toward defraying other trip costs. Some cards also offer perks, such as free checked baggage or access to airport lounges with free food and drinks, so consider taking advantage.

5. Fill the tank at the right time

No, you're not imagining it—gas prices really do rise later in the week and peak holiday travel days. Plan to fill up early in the week, even if you're not driving for a few days. According to a 2022 GasBuddy study, Monday is the cheapest day to gas up in many states. Thursday is the most expensive. While you're traveling, use an app that finds nearby gas stations with the lowest prices, especially if you're near state lines—gas costs can vary wildly between states.

6. Schedule rideshares and taxis in advance

Whether you need a ride to and from the airport or between your hotel and Thanksgiving dinner, try a prebooking feature. The earlier you arrange your ride, the more you could potentially save. And watch for rideshare company promotions, such as ordering rides from social media messaging apps, referring your friends to sign up as new users, and scheduling rides as a New Year's Eve partygoer. These could score you free or discounted lifts.

7. Rent out your home while you're away

If you live in a popular destination and you're heading out of town for the holidays, consider renting your home to another traveler. The money you get for your place might be enough to cover much of your travel expenses. You could list on a home-rentals site for a fee or spread the word on your own. This only works if there aren't any restrictions on renting out your home in your area, as there might be in certain cities and homeowners association communities.

8. Pack your travel-day meals

Food and drink prices at airports and along highways come at a premium. You could save more than a few dollars by planning ahead and bringing meals and snacks from home for the days you're on the move.

9. Travel light

If you don't get a free checked bag, consider squeezing all of your items into a carry-on to avoid checked baggage fees. If you need to bring gifts, consider ordering online and shipping for free to your destination. That beats paying extra to lug them all in your luggage.

10. Take a train

With large crowds taking to the air and roads for holiday travel, railways tend to be the path less traveled. You might be able to get a train ticket for much less than airfare, so research train trips to your holiday festivities. You could also look into economical bus rides.

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