Holidays are expensive enough, so when it comes to family travel at Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s, my motto is don’t pay a penny more than you have to. These tips can help keep trip costs in check, and my top tip is really simple: Hurry!
by Rick Seaney | Contributor
Airline Ticket Shopping Tips
• Shop now: If you plan to travel for Thanksgiving, there’s not a moment to waste and you can also buy December holiday tickets now. Do not expect last-minute deals; the once-common bargains no longer exist. Shop immediately.
• Figure out your travel dates: Cheapest days to fly during festive periods are almost always the holiday itself, and if you can take off early on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day, you won’t miss much (plus the airports will be super-easy to navigate).
• Compare fares: Always compare ticket prices which means going to an airfare search site and comparing those fares with Southwest’s (the only airline that doesn’t share its price data). No single carrier always has the best prices so if you don’t compare, you could miss out on substantial savings.
• Look at connecting flights: If you can spare the time for a longer flight (and the kids are up for a longer day), compare prices for connecting flights vs. non-stops; often, the flight with a stop is cheaper (and sometimes it’s a lot cheaper).
• Set airfare alerts: Especially for Christmas or New Year’s travel. This is a very simple process that takes just seconds. If you like a deal you’re alerted to, act fast because you’re not the only one doing this. Visit farecompare.com to set airfare alerts.
Is It Cheaper to Drive?
The short answer is a qualified “probably,” but there’s more at stake here than the cost of filling your gas tank. Compare airfare prices with the cost of your time + energy (long drives take something out of most of us), then factor in the cost of burning an extra day or two of vacation for drive-time. Don’t forget the mental strain: How many times can you answer that favorite kiddie question, “Are we there yet?”
Saving on Baggage (Consolidate)
• You can save depending on how you pack, and this is definitely a case of less is more.
• Carry-on bags: Use smaller hand luggage and you’ll typically save $50 round-trip per person on baggage fees for checked-bags. Bonus: Carry-on bags don’t get lost.
• Checked-bags: If you travel Southwest, you get two bags for free, but you won’t be able to avoid the wait at the baggage carousel; in other words, big bags can create delays.
• When the airlines charge for all bags, Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit charge for checked-bags and carry-ons – check their prices carefully because fees for carry-ons can be more expensive than checked-bag fees. However, Spirit does allow a small bag (that fits under a seat) for free; see their website for dimensions as well as an informative how-to packing video for little bags.
See the How-To Video for Packing small bags at marketing.spirit.com.
If You Just Want to Get Away
If you aren’t obligated to visit family during the holidays but just want to take a trip, here’s a couple of ways to save:
• Look for cheaper cities: We’ve been seeing good deals to Boston, Denver, even New York and Washington, D.C. out of Dallas-Ft. Worth and Love Field. Cheaper destinations in Europe include Scandinavian countries, Dublin, and more. Choose travel dates carefully: Generally, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday are the cheapest for domestic flights while weekdays are best for international flights, however the holidays don’t follow all the usual travel rules.
• Look for hub-to-hub hops: If you’re looking for a simple trip, check out shorter flights to big airports like Houston, New Orleans, or maybe Ft. Lauderdale. Competitive routes like these are usually less affected by the big jumps in holiday pricing.