High prices and long lines won't keep you from visiting loved ones for the holidays this year--we know. Whether it's grandma's house or a destination holiday, we've got you covered with the most up-to-date money-saving travel info. This year, plan ahead and use these tips from travel industry insiders and you'll save mony, avoid the rush and get to your destination in time to make merry.
Book Airfare Like a Pro
Creating a holiday flight plan for the whole family can be just as tricky as it can be expensive. Luckily we talked with travel experts at Expedia and Travelocity so this year booking airfare will be a breeze.
Best days to travel for Thanksgiving: For Thanksgiving travel, the worst days (for both prices and airport congestion) are the Wednesday before and the Sunday after, so if you can extend or shorten your holidays, you'll see the savings.
Best days to travel for Christmas: With Christmas on a Tuesday this year it will save money if you can extend your vacation by arriving earlier, particularly Wednesday or Thursday before and departing after the 26th. Our experts estimate that if you book with these dates as early as October you could see savings of 10 to 15 percent versus arriving the weekend before and departing on Wednesday the 26th.
Be flexible: The more flexibility you have the better, but not just with dates. If you're willing to look at other airports near your destination, you may find better prices. For example, according to our experts, flying through LaGuardia Airport in New York City rather than Newark or JFK can save you 15 to 30 percent, depending on the time of the year.
When to book: There is truth to the myth that Tuesday is the best day of the week to book tickets, the earlier the better. This is because airlines tend to load a lot of deals andnew inventory Tuesday at 12 a.m.
Nonstops vs. layovers: While you may be used to looking at flights with layovers to save money, our experts say you could be wasting money. Due to the fact that planes use the most fuel during takeoff and landing, combined with the rising cost of jet fuel, many of the shorter flights are more expensive, which makes longer direct flights your best bet for saving both time and money.
Be Smarter With Your Travel Points
Earning and managing arline points can be a frustrating and tiring process. Fortunately Brian Kelly, aka The Points Guy has broken it down for us, and you'll be surprised at how easy airline points can be! We've listed here some important things to keep in mind for holiday travel, but to reap even more knowledge, read his blog.
Change how you shop online: Racking up more airline points is as simple as shopping online (hello, gifts!), as long as you click through a retailer's website from an online mileage mall. To make it even easier, Kelly has a list with links to the various online shopping portals that will earn you extra points for your online purchases on his site.
Do the math: Airlines can make buying points seem like an alluring option, but Kelly warns that's not always the case. It's only worthwhile when the benefit far outweighs the cost. For example, if buying $100 worth of points will save $2,000 on an upcoming cross-sea business class flight, then yes.
You can roll your points over: In order to get you to buy miles or use the ones you have quickly (or even to make them expire, leaving you with higher ticket prices), most airlines don't allow points to roll over from year to year. But Kelly advises that you can skirt that issue by making a single purchase through the shopping portals mentioned above. If you have one mile entering the account, your miles will get a new expiration date.
Upgrade your flight for less: Since holidays are generally a slower time for business travel, the business class seats may be heavily discounted and conversely, since holidays generally see a higher demand for
economy seats, the different in prices between the two will be much smaller than other times of the year, meaning cheaper upgrades.
Beat the (Airport) System
Save time, money and sanity with these genius tips that will make navigating the airport during the holidays enjoyable. These tips from American Express Travel Insiders and a director from NCR's travel division will make holiday travel (almost) fun!
Ship what you don't need: Limit yourself to just your carry on by shipping things like clothes and gifts ahead of time. The shipping costs may be less than the baggage fees and will help you cut down on unnecessary packing. Shipping gifts ahead of time means you don't have to un-wrap them at the security checkpoint, too. When all you're left with is your carry on, getting through the airport will be a cinch.
Pack the right carry on: After you've shipped everything but your carry on, make the most of it by packing it with some key essentials like phone chargers, headphones and music player, medication and any healthy snacks that will get past security.
Utilize mobile check-in: In the digital age, most airlines will let you check in online ahead of time with many going paperless and let you use your mobile device to display boarding passes. If you combine this with the last step, all you'll have to do is go through security when you get to the airport, giving yourself more time.
Research the airport layout: Nothing's worse than skipping a meal in the rush to get to the airport. But if you research the aiport's food and newsstand offerings beforehand, you'll know where to get coffee and a newspaper before your 7 a.m. boarding time.
What You Need to Know About Car Rentals
Once you've landed at your destination, you're really only halfway there. A spokeswoman for Hertz gave us the low-down for making your next car rental a smooth one.
Don't wait to book: As a good rule of thumb, if you need a car book it with your airfare--don't wait. Like airfare, the further in advance you book your rental, the best chance you have of getting the best rate and chances are better that you'll get the right car (if not, you risk paying more for a car that won't end up meeting your needs). The longer you wait, the higher the price. Following car rental companies on Facebook and Twitter will give you the inside track on special offers.
Know what car you really need: Don't pick a car because it's the cheapest option if it doesn't meet your needs. If you're going on a ski trip, take that into consideration or risk ending up with a sedan and nowhere to put your skis. The worst thing you could do is to book the wrong car, because changing your preference in the lot will drive up the price and the car you really need may not be available.
Enroll in free* member reqards programs: At Hertz, their Gold Plus Reward program is free (*for a limited time, check the website for details) and offers expedited service as well as loyalty with travel points that don't expire. Gold Plus members also receive "carfirmation" mobile alerts letting you know ahead of time what car you're driving, so plate numbers and parking locations so that you can get on your way faster.
Photo courtesy of SWF Photography