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Shot of a man carving a chicken on ChristmasIt may seem like summer just ended, but the holiday season is closer than you think. If you, like millions of other Americans, plan to travel to celebrate with family, the best way to reduce stress is to plan ahead and do your research. Whether you’re looking for the best airline ticket deals or just hoping to get through heightened holiday security unscathed, here are our top tips for making it a very merry season.

Airline Steals and Deals

It can be hard to find cheap airfare during the busiest travel period of the year, but if you plan on flying to your holiday destination over Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s, there are some tricks you can use to save money. Budget travel can be summed up in one word – flexibility. The easiest ways to score cheaper tickets are to shift your departure days and know when it’s the right time to buy. For Thanksgiving, the most expensive travel days are the day before the holiday and the Sunday after. Airfare can be significantly cheaper if you shift your travel dates by one or two days. Most major carriers offer a “flex date” option when booking, which makes it easier to see how much you’ll be saving on each alternative date. If you must travel on the most popular days, book as early as possible. Ticket prices increase as planes fill up, so timing is key. If you’re traveling at Christmas, try departing on Dec. 18, 24 or 25, and returning on Dec. 31. Another tip is to avoid booking large blocks of tickets at once. If you have a big group of people traveling together, it’s best to book separately. Booking together can actually cause the airline to bump your entire party up to the next fare level, increasing your overall costs. If you plan on renting a car at your final destination, avoid large international airports and consider flying into a smaller regional hub. Not only will you save money, you’ll enjoy less crowded terminals.

A Room for Less

If you’re don’t plan to stay with family at your holiday destination, finding cheap lodgings can be just as tricky as finding cheap airfare. Again, booking early is key, not only to getting the cheapest rates, but making sure you’ll get a room in the best location. Most travelers wait to book their hotels until a day or two before their trips, which means you’re more likely to get a better price by booking early. Many times, purchasing a package deal that includes airfare and hotel can save you money. You can add in a rental car for added savings if you need transportation. Going the less traditional route can be a good option as well. If searching hotel booking sites isn’t getting you the rate you want for a traditional hotel, you can rent a room or an entire apartment for less at sites like airbnb.com. Keep in mind that finding a hotel room is hardest over New Year’s, but there will be plenty to go around over Christmas.

Packing and Preparation

There are a number of things to consider when getting through airport security during the holiday. If you plan on packing gifts, consider shipping your packages to your final destination prior to your departure date to save time and avoid damage or loss. Mailing packages is a great way to save time going through security and avoiding extra fees for checked luggage. If you’re an over-packer, weigh the cost of shipping your clothes or bulkier items rather than checking them in. Most airlines charge $25 or more to the privilege, so the United States Postal Service or UPS may be a better bet. When traveling with children, a little extra preparation can keep stress to a minimum. If you’re traveling a long distance in a car, or on a plane, pack some snacks, games and activities for your children to help make the trip less boring and keep them occupied. For airport security, make sure you have a plan worked out ahead of time. Strollers and car seats must be scanned before being checked at the gate. Figure out who will be in charge of folding these items up and getting them through security. You can also save time by carrying a foldable bag to put stuffed animals, toys and loose odds and ends in to be X-rayed. If you’re traveling with a small infant, a baby carrier free of metal clasps and buckles can save you time and energy when getting you and your baby through metal detectors. Although there are strict regulations for carrying liquids through security, breast milk, formula and juice allowed, but subject to screening by the TSA.

It’s important to plan ahead when traveling to visit family to get the best deals and prepare you and your travel companions for the rigors of the holiday travel season.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Oooh, Airbnb is legit. I am in love with that service. One kinda weird tip I have is kind of an offshoot of what you said about shipping stuff ahead of time… I recently got into drinking Soylent. I find it super convenient when traveling. So instead of having to constantly be finding a place to eat (I eat 5x/day for stable blood sugar, etc.) I can get a case of Soylent (or similar product) shipped to the Airbnb. Then I have a well-rounded (meal) waiting for me and I don’t have to do the restaurant hunt. Plus, restaurants are expensive.

    1. I’ve never thought of the liquid diet travel meal. I may have to try this to replace my power bar and juice box lunch strategy. 🙂

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