By Rick Seaney / Contributor
I won’t keep you in suspense. The best present to give or receive during the holidays (or for a birthday or anniversary) is the gift of travel. It’s not just a present; it’s a lifetime of wonderful memories. And it doesn’t have to be expensive. Follow these simple hacks to get the most for your money on what may well be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Where to go
The first thing to do is settle on a destination, and there are plenty of cheap ones out there (more for those who live in big cities with hub-type airports). Some airfare search sites have a tool that shows the cheapest deals from your hometown, such as my own Getaway Deals Map, which allows shoppers to say when they want to fly and what they want to pay, then watch prices pop up for cities around the world. It’s a simple way to ensure you get a deal on a memory-making destination.
Shop when it’s cheap
For domestic travel, try shopping Tuesday afternoon. Most airlines release U.S. sales late Monday or early Tuesday, so by Tuesday afternoon, competing carriers have matched the new sale prices. And remember, don’t wait to buy tickets until the last minute because that’s when prices rise sharply; buy your tickets 30 days in advance if possible.
Fly when it’s cheap
Off-peak travel doesn’t mean you can only visit a favorite city in the dead of winter; plan a visit for spring or fall instead of summer, and you will almost always see significant savings, plus you’ll bypass summertime crowds. Careful, there are some off-season high-fare periods (Thanksgiving in the U.S., Christmas/New Year’s in much of the rest of the world), but so long as you avoid those dates, you will see deals.
Cheaper days to fly in the U.S. are generally Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays; for international travel, weekdays are usually cheaper than weekends. This is a general rule, meaning it may not always be true, so be sure to compare prices for a variety of itineraries.
Another shopping hack: If you don’t live in a big hub, consider driving to the nearest one even if it’s a couple of hours away; the savings offered on flights from a large airport could make it worth the effort.
Look for other travel-related deals and info
The best advice you can get for hotel rooms or must-see attractions will come from people who’ve been there, especially people you know; have those conversations before you turn to the online reviews. Some airfare search sites and well-known hotel chains allow you to sign up for newsletters and will email you deals. Tip: As you check out online reviews, do your homework; for example, don’t book a hotel until you’ve seen pictures of the entire room including the bathroom.
Solo travel vs. friends and family
The gift of travel can be a solo trip for an older kid (though you might want to check and see if other parents are thinking along similar lines, so two kids could travel together). Or ask your son or daughter if they’d mind if you came along. Or heck, make it a real family vacation; after all, now you know how to keep costs down for everyone.
Some airfare search sites https://www.farecompare.com/
For Getaway Deals Map – https://www.farecompare.com/maps/
Editor’s Note: Rick Seaney, founder of FareCompare.com, is a travel expert who enjoys helping others find great deals on traveling domestically and abroad. Surf for deals at Farecompare.com or reach Rick at TWITTER: @RickSeaney.