You’ll have plenty of company this season if you’re hitting the road, rails or skies for your annual pilgrimage across state lines to visit loved ones. According to CreditCards.com, 60 million Americans will take a plane or stay in a hotel this holiday season. The unfortunate downside? Nearly 40% of them will rack up credit card debt as a result.
For context, according to Expedia, the average Thanksgiving week traveler will spend $490 on their flight, and $140 a day for a hotel stay. That’s a $630 outlay before you’ve even checked in your luggage!
Thankfully, it’s not too late to trim your holiday travel costs.
CHOOSE A DIFFERENT MODE OF TRANSPORTATION
If the idea of spending several hundred dollars on a flight to visit your loved ones is raising your stress, consider a cheaper way to get where you’re going. “During the holidays, air travel is typically the most expensive form of transportation, so consider alternatives like taking a train or driving,” says Ashley Rossi, editor of online magazine SmarterTravel. “If you’re able to drive to your destination but don’t have a car, calculate the cost of what your flight or train might be, and compare that to rental car costs. Just don’t forget to budget out for gas and insurance.”
If flying is the only transportation option, look to be flexible with the specific days you take to the skies, advises Alexis Tiacoh, a spokeswoman for online travel website Expedia. The cheapest day to fly last year was Christmas Eve, she says, with people paying about $100 less than those who flew the Saturday before the holiday.
TIME YOUR PURCHASE TO LOWER THE COST
Most people think that the farther out they book a flight or hotel, the more they are apt to save. But you can fine-tune your timing strategy to save even more as your travel date approaches. Tiacoh from Expedia says the cheapest time to buy flights for Christmas is between November 23 and December 9. Booking during that window can save travelers about 15%. She also recommends booking hotels on a Friday, which is when travelers typically find the lowest average daily rate.
WAIT FOR “TRAVEL TUESDAY” ONLINE SALES
Electronics and apparel aren’t the only items marked down during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Make way for Travel Tuesday (or, really, any of the major sales days following Thanksgiving), when online travel websites offer sales on select flights and hotel rooms.
“Our Black Friday and Cyber Monday sale will have hundreds of deals on flights, hotels, activities, and more,” Tiacoh says. Expedia isn’t alone. Competition is fierce in the travel industry, so make sure to check out all the online travel websites and the airlines themselves before making a purchase.
CONSIDER ALTERNATIVE LODGING
Lodging during the holidays can quickly add up, particularly if you’re visiting family and friends for an extended period of time. A quick and easy way to cut that cost is to stay with loved ones, but if the idea of close quarters has got you freaked out, there are other ways to save on your accommodations.
Using a home-sharing service like Airbnb can yield big savings, beyond just lodging. “It’s often a lot cheaper to stay in an Airbnb than a brand-name hotel,” says Ted Rossman, industry analyst at CreditCards.com. “It feels more homey, you get more space and you can save money by cooking your own meals.”
If you are more the hotel type, try out a lower cost boutique hotel, and peruse the sales leading up to the holidays.
MAKE STRATEGIC CUTS ELSEWHERE
Beyond the big-ticket travel expenses (like transportation and lodging), consider other expenses. Before you even step on the plane or jump in the car, make a detailed list of what you expect to spend on things like food (including morning lattes), entertainment, gas and ride-hailing services. “Seeing how much small travel expenses add up helps you be more budget-conscious,” says Rossi.
“Sometimes there’s just no way around an expensive flight,” Rossi says. In that case, it’s time to look for other ways you can trim your trip costs. “Maybe it’s where you’re staying, maybe it’s not going out to eat as often as you normally would or maybe it’s renting bikes and not relying on rideshares and taxis.”
Don’t let the financial stress of the holidays get you down.
- Do the math: Here’s exactly what you should be spending (or not!) this holiday season
- How to save money during the holidays
- Stop wondering what to give: Here’s our guide to holiday tipping
- An Instagram influencer shares her travel savings secrets on the HerMoney Podcast