Although it’s almost the most wonderful time of the year, it’s also a pretty pricey time of the year. Once you add up the cost of going home for the holidays, from flights to parking, not to mention what you spent on gifts, all of it starts to add up — and fast. However, there are ways to save money on travel during the holidays, even though it may not seem like it.
“For many people, one of the biggest holiday expenses is travel — whether you’re flying home for the holidays, paying to fly your family members home, or booking a hotel stay to avoid family tension at the in-laws,” Dom Scarlett, chief editor at TravelPirates, tells Bustle. “People love to tell me they don’t have money to travel, but it’s not true for the majority of people.”
She says the key to saving money for travel and travel-related costs is making it a priority. “Chances are, you pay your phone bill every month, so try contributing to your travel budget with the same level of importance,” Scarlett says. “Smart saving — combined with smart money-saving travel tips — will help you travel without spending a small fortune.”
Like Scarlett says, it all comes down to money management and making sure you set some aside for travel costs. Below, she and a finance expert weigh in on ways to save money on travel-related expenses.
1Sign Up For Travel Newsletters
If you don’t already have your flight home for Christmas, Scarlett says that travel newsletters are also a great way to find last-minute travel deals. “Airlines are constantly having flash sales and they often last mere hours (if that),” Scarlett says. “Staying in-the-know will help you snag the perfect flight for the holidays — especially if you waited too long to book your holiday flights and missed out on discounted fares over the spring and summer.”
Some also use Skyscanner to book a deal at the last minute. Not only can you compare different flights, but you can also put in the entire month you’d like to travel, versus a specific date, and see which is most cost-effective.
2*Don’t* Fly Straight To Your Final Destination
Although you may not love airport layovers — who does? — having one could end up saving you money. A twist on this is booking a couple of one-way flights, such as Los Angeles to Denver, then Denver to Chicago.
“Consider DIY flight routes,” Scarlett says. “While a straight shot to your destination may seem like your best bet, you may be surprised to find out that it might be cheaper to create your own layovers using one-way flights.”
Andrea Woroch, consumer savings expert, writer, and TV personality, agrees. “Book flights with separate airlines and compare surrounding airports,” she tells Bustle. “Finding the best deal on airfare comes down to price comparison. Not only should you compare prices of roundtrip airfare, but you should look at prices for one-ways and build your own itinerary.”
She says you can do this by reviewing prices of flights on different airlines and on flights that go in/out of surrounding airports that are easily accessible. “Plus, this helps you avoid costly fees if you need to cancel or change one leg of the trip since it won’t disrupt the whole flight,” she says.
3Be Mindful When You Rent A Car
Before renting a car, Woroch says to use CarRentals.com to compare rates for any city or airport worldwide. “Book the cheapest car available, then try to negotiate for a free upgrade when checking in at the car rental counter,” she says. “Also, check deals available through the travel portal of your warehouse club membership; I always find savings through Costco, even if it’s $20 or $30 for the week. It all adds up in the end!”
And you can skip the rental car insurance to save even more money, Scarlett says. “This may sound dangerous, but many credit cards cover the cost of car rental insurance, so you can say ‘no’ to the extra fee at the rental counter,” she says. “Depending on your destination, this could save you hundreds of dollars.”
4Sign Up For Flight Alerts
Oftentimes, you may look up flights and they’re too expensive, so you stop looking. But when you set up flight alerts, you’ll get email notifications as prices drop.
“Set flight alerts for your desired destination, via sites like Hopper, to get deals sent to you when they become available,” Woroch says. “This is especially helpful if you are open to different destinations for a family holiday trip, as you can book based on what’s cheapest.”
5Check Your Frequent Flier Miles
If you’re not using frequent flier miles, it’s not too late to begin. If you are, Scarlett says to make sure you check your mileage balance. “Take advantage of your unused points to get flights or hotel stays for the holidays,” she says. “Some credit cards will even get you special rates on rooms and upgrades, and a points-purchased business class flight could even be a gift to yourself for the holidays.”
6Eat Like A Local
Even though you may be eating in a lot with your family when you go home for the holidays, you may choose to go on a vacation for Christmas instead. In any case, eating like a local is an easy way to save money.
“While you may be tempted to visit some of the city’s famous dining spots (i.e., tourist traps), your budget and taste buds will thank you for doing a bit of background research first,” Scarlett says. “Here in Boston, for example, people always want to visit the Cheers bar, but there are tons of amazing dining spots in the city for not a ton of money.” She also suggests checking food review sites and filtering them by the single dollar sign. “That way, you’ll find a great place to eat within your budget,” Scarlett says.
7Travel *On* The Holiday
A big way to cut costs when traveling over the holidays is to fly on the holiday itself. I’ve done this — and have made it to my family’s house with plenty of time to spare before Christmas dinner.
“When booking last-minute flights for Christmas or New Year’s, consider flying in or out on the holiday,” Woroch says. “If you time it right, you can still have quality time with your family.” She says that not only will prices be lower, but there will also be fewer crowds and delays at airports.
8Find Cheaper Airport Parking
Woroch says that most people don’t think about costs of getting to and from the airport or parking at the airport when they budget for a flight. But, this is a mistake. “If you don’t plan ahead, these fees can add up over the duration of a long trip,” she says. “When parking at the airport, my favorite site to use is AirportParkingReservations.com.” The site lists various parking locations, distance to the airport, available shuttles, and reviews, plus the price per day, she says.
“I recently booked a parking lot for my flight out of LAX for $5.99 per day,” Woroch says. “They even offer coupon codes to help you save on their service fee! This is much cheaper than parking at the airport or taking an Uber.”
9Embrace Minimalism And Pack Light
Scarlett says an easy way to save money on holiday travel is by not checking bags.
“You’ve likely seen swarms of people with stacks of suitcases and bags waiting to check into their flights,” she says. “Ask yourself a critical question before you start packing: Do I really need to bring all this stuff? From gifts (think: gift cards or donations in the recipient’s name) to your clothes (how many pairs of shoes do you really need?), less is more.”
Plus, you can always have gifts shipped right to your final destination in advance (Amazon free shipping, anyone?).
10Delay Going Home & Take The Long Way Home
Sure, you may be in a rush to get home, but it’ll cost you — literally. “Weekend flights often run a little higher than their mid-week counterparts, but the price difference can become much more steep around the holidays,” Scarlett says. “Enjoy a leisurely weekend in your own space before heading home for the holidays — it’ll be like a staycation before the holiday whirlwind.”
On a similar note, while many people get days off before a holiday, Scarlett suggests taking days off afterwards. “Getting a few days off before the holidays is a luxury, but it often leads to crowded airports and high flight costs,” she says. “Consider taking a few extra days off after the holidays.” She says that not only will it save you some money, but you could opt for slower travel options, like taking the train or going on a road trip.
11Look At Alternative Forms Of Housing
While you may sleep at your family’s house over the holidays — NBD — you may choose to stay elsewhere. To save the most money possible, Scarlett says to think outside the box.
“If you can’t (or don’t want to) stay with family, and don’t want to shell out for holiday season rates at hotels either, take a look at peer-to-peer accommodations,” Scarlett says. “Chances are, people in your destination are leaving for the holidays themselves and have opened up their home to travelers while they’re away.” She says a bonus of this is having a kitchen at your place, which helps reduce food costs.
You can find a place on Airbnb, VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner), or Booking.com— either for yourself or for yourself and another holiday guest — but you can also look at other options.
“You can save big by staying in a micro hotel, which gives you a place to rest your head — and not much else,” Scarlett says. “But due to the small size of the rooms, these hotels can provide lower rates in excellent city-center locations.” She says they also often have trendy and chic furnishings and communal spaces.
Meanwhile, you can add to your travel budget by Airbnbing your bedroom or apartment/house over the holidays, too. Some places have Airbnb restrictions, so make sure it’s legal first.
All in all, though the holidays seem to be an expensive time of year, especially when it comes to travel, they don’t have to be. By utilizing the above tips, you can put the money you save into savings — or even future trips — and that seems like a perfect gift to give yourself for the holidays.