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Portait of a big family having fun while eating

Planning to travel for the holidays? Because rates for planes, trains and even buses can jump quickly, you’ll need a plan of action that begins now.

Talk to Your Significant Other and Family Members Early

The fastest way to add to your holiday budget is if you don’t really know which way you’re headed. If your parents live in separate states or you’ll be spending the holidays with a significant other’s family, have a discussion now to determine where you’re going.

Costs may drive which place you pick to travel to and when. For instance, you may find that it’s $200 cheaper to fly to Nebraska for Thanksgiving than it is for December celebrations. You could then opt to take a trip to California to see other family in December.

Check Multiple Sites, but Quickly

Flight prices can rise quickly as planes fill up, and popular travel sites may not include airlines such as Southwest Airlines. Check at least three aggregator sites and the airlines’ sites for the best prices. Try to do your research within a 24-hour period, but in the first hour, if you find a good price, do a 24-hour hold, even if it requires a credit card.

Just make sure you cancel within 24 hours if you get a better deal. You don’t want to end up paying for an extra plane ticket! Also, make sure you read all fine print to determine it’s a temporary hold. If you need to change plans after your tickets are booked, keep in mind that change fees will be involved.

Know Your Airport and Date Boundaries

Traveling an extra 20 – 80 miles may save you a few hundred dollars. Especially if you’re traveling to or from a city with multiple airports, avoid restricting your search to a particular airport when comparing prices, unless you truly are willing to fly in and out of that airport only.

For instance, I live in NYC. I have the option of JFK, LaGuardia or Newark. I’ll always search for NYC, but I have a strong preference for JFK and LaGuardia. Both of those airports take an hour to get to by public transport. However, if I leave early in the morning, I know the cab is twice the price to go to JFK.

When calculating the differences in flying into one airport versus the other, always include the prices of transportation or gas to and from the airport. If booking shuttles for a time as busy as the holiday season, get reservations in advance. If shuttles fill up, you’ll have to spring for an expensive cab ride.

Get Money Back if Last-Minute Sales Arise

Thanksgiving and the winter holiday season aren’t ideal to wait for last minute sales to arise. But if they do, you might be able to get a travel voucher back for the difference. Many airlines will give you a voucher (that you can use for another trip!) for the difference in price if there’s a sale at a later date.

All you have to do is call if you happen to check on their site and see a lower price. The agent checks to see if they see the same price and then issues the voucher.

Don’t Forget Trains and Buses

In the Northeast, trains and buses can be faster than planes. When I’m going from New York to DC, I rarely fly. By the time I add in the hour wait (two hours during the holidays) to arrive, get through security, buy snacks and board the plane, the entire trip takes four hours. That’s the same amount of time it is to take a bus and an hour longer than it takes to ride a train.

Trains aren’t necessarily cheaper than flights, but they can be more convenient and can be cheaper if one mode of transportation fills up faster than another. If you don’t live in a major metropolitan area, check bus prices. For example, Montana’s sparse population and often-pricey airfare means buses tend to make financial sense.

I took a bus from Helena, Montana to Spokane instead of choosing a flight that would’ve had a connecting flight. The trip only took a couple of hours longer, and I saved over $200.

Compare Prices Early for Hotels and Rental Cars, Too

In theory, it’s nice staying with family. But sometimes if you’re staying for longer than a few days, it’s nice to have your own space. Plus, your family might enjoy use of hotel pools and gyms. If you think you might need a hotel room or rental car, book as soon as possible and look for the best prices on multiple sites.

Even more than airfare, hotels and car rentals can vary greatly from site to site. I always start a rental car or hotel search by googling for prices. Then, I check around the sites that pop up as results. With hotels, those sites tend to be the usual suspects such as Hotels.com and the hotel’s official site. With rental cars, it could be a variety of sites.

Read the fine print, but always checks multiple sites, ask about hotel packages, and always call the hotel directly or rental car company reservation line. Unlike airlines, hotels and rental cars don’t charge extra for booking over the phone.

Do you have plans to travel this holiday season? Share your travel tips with fellow readers below!

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. When traveling around the holidays one has to look early and often for travel and lodging. For my family we will spend more on the travel for the convenience of getting there than a hotel. My parents came across a hotel site where one can pick the quality (3,4,5 stars) set a price range and then be alerted when rooms open within their budget. They turned it onto us and we’ve used it ever since, urpricehotels, is the name and the reality is not much time is spent in the hotel room so we dont want to over spend.

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