You want to make the holidays merry with a trip to see family and friends. Trouble is, you don’t have a ton of dough. No worries though, that doesn’t mean you can’t go. Smart moves now can make your trip more affordable.
Here’s a game plan for your holiday getaway.
Be mindful of your timing
When it comes to flying, “Traveling on the holiday itself often yields the cheapest rates. Book at least two weeks to a month ahead of your trip. Avoid starting your trip on the Saturday before the holiday; this was consistently the most expensive day to fly,” says Christie Hudson, a representative for Expedia.com.
She says the best time to buy airline tickets for Thanksgiving are Oct. 29—Nov. 13. According to Expedia.com’s research, last year’s travelers who departed on Thanksgiving paid about $100 less than those who departed the Saturday before the holiday. Avoid traveling the Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, as you will not only likely pay more, but also have to deal with the crowds.
When it comes to Christmas, the cheapest time to buy, according to Expedia.com, is November—Dec. 9. The least expensive day to fly is Christmas Eve. Last year, travelers paid around $100 less than those who started their trip on the Saturday before Christmas.
For Christmas travel, search for deals on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Look for package deals
“Maximize your savings by booking your flight, hotel and car rental together. Sort the price from high to low and scan the list to choose the best combo to suit your needs. Use sites like Expedia or Travelocity and compare prices before making your final decision,” says Amanda Ramikissoon, a personal finance blogger and owner of The Frugal Mom Guide.
Choose alternate airports
If it’s an option, book your tickets through an alternate airport. “These tend to be less crowded than main airports, and even offer cheaper travel options. Parking or rental cars at the departure or arrival airport might be less expensive as well,” says travel blogger, Roxanne Bernard.
Pack smart and ship gifts
Don’t risk getting caught at customs with fresh cheese or truffle oil. Or worse, don’t risk having to clean your suitcase after a delicious bottle of wine exploded in it. Says Bernard, “Use Amazon’s gift-wrapping option and send the gifts directly to your destination. If you fly, don’t wrap your gifts ahead of time as you may have to unwrap them at security.”
Bundle your flight with hotel
Whether you book your flight and hotel at the same time on Expedia or come back and add a hotel later, you’ll save. Travelers save an average of up to $600 on package bookings.
Take two one-way flights
Sometimes it’s cheaper to book two one-way flights (one to your destination, one back home) rather than a round-trip flight. This isn’t always the case, but it’s quick and easy to check when you’re searching for your flight. “Often, you’ll find that you can get a good deal on your trip out with one airline and a good deal with a different airline on the way back, saving you money without extra hassle,” says Kate Sullivan, head of experience at Secret-Fares.com.
Create a budget
Decide how much you can afford to spend in total for your trip. Take into account everything from flights, hotels, activities, car rental. Know your number and stick to it. The earlier you determine that figure, focus on coming up with ways to come up with as much cash as possible to avoid excessive use of your credit card. Maybe everybody pitch in with adults working overtime, teens babysitting, or whatever best works for you and your family.