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50 Clever Ways to Trim Thanksgiving Travel Costs
You'll be grateful for these money-saving hacks (and sanity savers) this Turkey Day.
Save money and stay calm during the holiday frenzy with these pro tips.
Holiday travel doesn't have to be a nightmare. Whether you're traveling by plane, train or automobile for an obligatory Thanksgiving meal with family and friends or you're plotting a spur-of-the-moment getaway, there are plenty of tips and tricks for smoother and cheaper travel. Sure, Thanksgiving travel may conjure images of bumper-to-bumper car traffic, congested train terminals and slow-moving airport security lines, but there are smart ways to cut down panic-inducing situations (and costs). So, if you're ready to shift your focus to sharing turkey, pie and gratitude this turkey day, read on for expert-backed tips for pulling off a wallet-friendly holiday trip.
Time it right.
Putting together a last-minute trip for the long weekend? There's still time to snap up affordable plane tickets. "Thanksgiving airfare tends to be very stable during the month of October, so prices won't vary [by] much, but make sure you book before the week of Halloween," advises Patrick Surry, the chief data scientist for Hopper, the price-monitoring app. "If you wait until early November to book your flight, it will cost you about $1 per day you wait. Then, prices begin spiking by $10 per day during the final two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving," he explains.
Travel on Thanksgiving Day and other unpopular dates.
"Don't underestimate how much the dates you're planning to travel can impact your cost," says Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com. "Most people traveling for Thanksgiving tend to plan a Wednesday to Sunday itinerary, and consequently it's the most expensive set of dates," he says. Simply tweaking your return date can translate to up to $150 in savings per ticket, on average, he adds. The most expensive day to fly is the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Surrey explains. You can save big by taking off on Thanksgiving morning or on the Monday before Thanksgiving – before the holiday rush. The most cost-prohibitive day to return is the Sunday after Thanksgiving. To maximize savings, return on the following Wednesday, he suggests.
Fly when others aren't.
Remember to factor in the time of day when you travel. According to Surrey, the peak times for travel over Thanksgiving are from 7 -10 a.m. and 5:30-7 p.m. By traveling in the morning, jetsetters can better equip themselves to pivot in the event of a flight delay or disruption, he explains. The late afternoon and early evening is also a popular time to jet following the traditional 9-to-5 work hours. "If you have flexibility and can leave in the afternoon or later at night, you can definitely find cheaper airfares," he says. Klee also advises flying early or late to increase your odds of savings and minimize your chances of encountering weather- or mechanical-related delays.
Look for price drops.
There are a variety of handy flight-tracking tools that make the fare-monitoring process a breeze. Hopper, for example, monitors fares 24 hours a day and alerts users when to book, Surrey explains. "It will also make personalized recommendations on how to save money such as flying to or from a smaller nearby airport. If you're planning a vacation but aren't sure where to go, Hopper's new feature, Flex Watch, will send you deal alerts to destinations you may be interested in," he adds. Meanwhile, Kayak's Price Alert feature enables you to receive email notifications when prices plunge, Solomito says. "As soon as you see a price within your budget, book it right away, especially during the holiday season when price changes are especially volatile," he advises.
If you're contemplating redeeming your points and miles for award travel around the holidays, consider transferring points from a co-branded credit card for the best value. Some cards, like the American Express Platinum Card, allow you to easily transfer points to affiliated programs, such as Hilton HHonors and Delta SkyMiles at a favorable exchange rate. Meanwhile, the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card allows you to transfer points at a 1:1 ratio with Marriott Rewards, World of Hyatt, United MileagePlus and Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, among other programs. Just make sure to act fast as award seats – particularly during peak travel periods – tend to get booked quickly.
Extend your stay or return on Black Friday.
Because ticket prices will soar and planes will be most crowded on the Sunday (and Monday) after Thanksgiving, Gabe Saglie, senior editor at Travelzoo, suggests extending your stay to Tuesday or Wednesday to save more and benefit from less chaotic airport conditions. Alternatively, if you don't have a flexible schedule, consider returning on Black Friday. "The Friday after Thanksgiving, when so many Americans are busy cashing in on Black Friday shopping deals, can generate lower fares thanks to softer demand," he explains. Klee also highlights that the most savings can be had by staying flexible with your return date, particularly if you return on Black Friday.
Rent a car from a peer.
Instead of reserving a car from a traditional rental company, consider turning to peer-to-peer markets that offer limited-time rentals, enabling you to land a bargain and dodge high long-term parking fees. The car-sharing service Getaround, for example, allows you to rent a car starting at $5 per hour and is available in major cities, such as San Francisco, Chicago and the District of Columbia. Meanwhile, Turo (formerly known as RelayRides) is another peer-to-peer car-sharing service that operates in the U.S., the U.K. and Canada. Turo bills its rentals as up to 35 percent less expensive than traditional companies and offers on-the-go vehicles at the airport and in major urban hubs.
Consider traveling by train.
If you have some flexibility in your schedule, search for promotion codes on Amtrak.com to land discounts on less popular routes (hint: skip routes along the Northeast Corridor). For example, if you're traveling with youngsters, Amtrak offers a "Kids Ride for 50% Off Every Day" promotion through 2019 that enables kids ages 2 to 12 to ride for free on select routes when accompanied by an adult. Early birds can also take advantage of promotions that shave 20 percent off ticket prices on select routes through 2019. And there are plenty of deals to be had along the West Coast. For the best pricing, reserve tickets for less desirable days (think: the Monday before Thanksgiving and Black Friday).
It's no secret that airline purchases can be cost-prohibitive. The easy solution: pack strategically. Take the time to brush up on TSA-permitted items, ensure you've stocked up on any necessary over-the-counter medications and stow away phone chargers, headphones, travel-sized toiletries and other items before your trip to curb overspending at the airport. And make sure to bring along easy-to-transport snacks to resist the urge to purchase an overpriced and lackluster meal at the airport. Aside from packing essentials, master the art of packing light to sidestep sky-high checked baggage fees (typically starting at $25, depending on the carrier) or worse, an overweight baggage fee (around $100 per bag).
Arrive to the airport early and prepped.
As a general rule of thumb, it's a wise idea to book flights that depart earlier in the day to decrease your odds of getting impacted by mechanical and weather-related disruptions. And while spending extra time at a crowded terminal may not sound enticing, it's also smart to arrive to early and armed for the unexpected to ensure you're not putting yourself in a panic-inducing situation in a slow-moving security line. Stay ahead of the curve by downloading apps like Gate Guru, which offers notifications for gate changes and current security wait times. And make sure to arrive with a strategically packed (and slim) carry-on to avoid checking your bag and incurring sky-high checked baggage fees.
Enroll in TSA PreCheck or another trusted traveler program.
Save yourself time (and sanity) by signing up for TSA PreCheck. While the one-time $85 application fee may seem steep, PreCheck enables a pain-free expedited screening process and can help increase your odds of making your flight on time. Because let's be honest: The last thing you want to do is miss your flight (and Thanksgiving turkey and pie). Plus, the one-time fee is valid for five years, making security wait times a cinch beyond Turkey Day. Before you sign up, check if your credit card or affiliated loyalty program waives the PreCheck enrollment fee. Marriott Rewards, United MileagePlus and the Chase Sapphire Reserve are just a few programs and issuers that waive the fee.
Research one-way routes.
Booking individual one-way tickets can often translate to serious savings. David Solomito, vice president of North America brand marketing at Kayak, highlights the company's hacker fares – "a ticket combination that includes two one-way tickets that together make a roundtrip flight" – as an easy way to dodge price hikes. Here's how it works: Rather than searching for flights with one preferred carrier, Kayak pinpoints the best price for separate one-way journeys, sometimes with different airlines. Once you see an enticing price, you can simply book each flight leg separately. Solomito also advises using Kayak's Price Forecast tool, "which lets you see the likelihood of your flight price rising within seven days, so you can book your travel with confidence."
Use your loyalty points.
When it comes to booking award travel, timing is key. And while the holidays can be tricky, with fuller planes, there are some smart tricks for landing an award seat. First, consult Expert Flyer, which is chock-full of valuable information and enables members to set up alerts, so they can stay in the know when award space is available and act quickly. Expert Flyer even enables you to customize your search with your desired travel dates to receive notifications tailored to your preferences. That said, it's best to book award seats at least 30 days out. Why? You don't want to wind up paying a pesky $75 required close-in booking fee (with the exception of Delta) 21 days out or less from departure.
Search for and collect coupon codes.
Discount codes and promotions listed on hotel websites, car rental companies and third-party travel planning sites can translate to significant savings. While AutoSlash can help you land deals and reduced pricing for car rentals, Coupon Sherpa, Coupons.com, LivingSocial and Groupon can help you identify curated accommodation deals and vacation packages. Online travel agencies such as Orbitz, Travelocity and Hotels.com often promote short-term coupon codes, so make sure to conduct a quick search before you book. Entering the name of your desired hotel coupled with the word "code" in Google can also help you identify available discounts and promotions. In short: Before you book, search and ask about reduced rates and promotions.
Take advantage of credit card perks.
Many travel credit cards tender little-known privileges. For example, the Citi Prestige Card offers a fourth-night free benefit. Meanwhile, the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card from Visa allows you to shave $100 off your airfare cost by booking through Visa's flight portal. Another often-overlooked perk is travel protection. With the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, for instance, you can stay insured for up to $500 per ticket purchased with the card if the weather upends your plans, thanks to the card's baggage and trip delay reimbursement. The Citi Prestige card similarly offers up to $500 in trip delay protection as a benefit for cardholders for delays that are three hours or longer.
Broaden your search.
While researching prospective flights, consider flying in or out of less-obvious airports and smaller hubs to land the best prices. "It depends on your route, so it pays to do your research before booking," Surrey says. Still, securing lower-priced tickets by flying into alternative hubs can be "a bit of a mixed bag," Klee cautions. He recommends looking at different options in large metropolitan areas like New York City that offer multiple airports. There are varied prices for the New York City to District of Columbia route, he explains highlighting the disparity in airfares for nonstop itineraries from different hubs and carriers. While smaller airports sometimes yield better prices, "If you're within driving distance of a large airport, you'll likely find the best deals there," Klee says.
Sign up for newsletters and alerts.
There are myriad factors that impact airfare price fluctuations, Surrey explains, including the increasing price of jet fuel. As the price of fuel spikes, carriers often have to modify their pricing structures, he adds. To stay attune to fare fluctuations, register for up-to-the-minute alerts and emails when deals are available on your desired route. Airfarewatchdog.com and Skyscanner.com can keep you informed on deals based on your selected travel preferences and dates. Plus, the Flight Deal and Scott's Cheap Flights can help you stay attuned to enticing promotions. What's more, other handy tools such as Hopper, Kayak and Hipmunk send alerts when deals pop up – so you can snag a deal on the fly.
Negotiate with home-sharing hosts.
Before you book a rental on Airbnb or another home-sharing platform, reach out to your host. There's no harm in inquiring about lower rates, especially for spur-of-the-moment bookings. You may be able to snap up a discounted rate, and at the very least gather more intel about local markets, underrated city gems and other spots, which can help you shave a few bucks off your dining and travel expenses. And if you've waited to book, you're more likely to find a deal for last-minute rentals that still need to be filled.
By packaging your flight and hotel together, you can easily decrease the cost of your trip. For example, with JetBlue Vacations, you can lock in a combination package for your flight and hotel that allows you to collect frequent flyer points and shave hundreds of dollars off your trip. Delta Vacations also allows you to take advantage of bonus miles and reduced prices with partnering car rental and hotel companies. Online travel agencies such as Expedia, Priceline, Travelocity, Kayak, Booking.com and Cheap Caribbean, along with warehouse clubs like Costco, also enable to save by bundling your airfare and accommodations.
Hit the road.
If you're contemplating driving to get to Grandma's house this year, you can easily slash costs – with right tools. "I'm a big fan of the road trip because of the flexibility …. and the potential savings, especially for families," Saglie says. After all, filling up the tank with a family of five and driving about 300 to 400 miles can be much less cost-prohibitive than buying five round-trip flight tickets, he explains. "If you drive, leave as early as possible and use traffic and cheap gas apps to help save you time and money along the way," he says. Use GasBuddy to pinpoint the closest gas stations, and dodge traffic by departing and returning at off-peak times (read: Black Friday).
Keep chasing the best rate…after you book.
By utilizing price-tracking tools, you can secure a lower rate, even after you've made your reservation. Enroll in Yapta.com (and its iOS app), and you can stay attuned to price drops with email notifications both before and after you've booked plane tickets. If Yapta pinpoints a better rate, the platform can even help you make a claim and recoup the difference in airfare. The tool Tingo is another helpful platform for monitoring price spikes and dips. When you book your stay with the Price Drop feature, you can track your room rate; if the rate drops, you can automatically recoup the price difference – without lifting a finger.
Packing along nutritious, TSA-approved snacks in your carry-on is an easy way to trim travel expenses. "Airport food and airline food is pricey, and your options are limited," Saglie says. "Take time to map out your travel day and flight, and pack your favorite snacks accordingly," he says. While deciding which snacks to bring, keep in mind that you won't be able to stow away liquid containers larger than 3.4 ounces (or 100 milliliters) in your carry-on. However, snacks such as dried fruit and nuts, apples and pretzels are allowed through security. If you're unsure about a particular item, use the TSA's handy "Can I bring my…" tool on the agency's website.
Remember your passenger rights.
There's a little-known rule mandated by the Department of Transportation that allows consumers to tweak, cancel or hold their reservation within 24 hours of booking their ticket. The hitch: If you reserve your tickets within a week from your departure date, the 24-hour rule doesn't apply. Also, keep in mind that if you're involuntarily bumped on an overbooked flight, and your new flight arrives an hour or two hours late to your final destination, domestic airlines are federally required to compensate you with 200 percent of your original ticket price, with a $675 maximum. There are some caveats and varying rules by carrier, but it's a smart idea to brush up on the rules ensure you get the best payout and perks.
Sidestep parking fees.
You can pay a pretty penny for hotel and airport parking (and that's not even including gratuities for valet). At Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, for example, parking in the main parking garage can cost up to $40 per day. And at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, on-airport long-term parking in an economy lot (located 4 miles away from terminals 1-8) starts at $18 per 24 hours, with an additional $6 fee per eight-hour increments. Dodge these pesky fees by relying on public transit and ride-sharing services. And if you're driving home for the holiday, skip the lofty hotel parking lot and identify cost-effective options with helpful tools such as SpotHero and BestParking.com.
Set your sights on Europe, Mexico or the Caribbean.
"In lieu of heading home for Thanksgiving, consider a trip abroad," Saglie says. He suggests checking out international hot spots, where you can take advantage of low-season prices in November for the best flight deals and hotel bargains. Klee also suggests researching vacation options across the Caribbean in destinations such as Jamaica, Belize and the Bahamas, along with the Yucatán Peninsula. "These popular winter destinations were spared hurricane damage this season, but you may see lower prices if tourists lump them in with more affected locations and stay away," Klee says.
Use social media to your advantage.
Staying active on social media accounts, such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram can help you position yourself for short-term flash sales and promotions. Make sure to follow your preferred airlines and hotels on social media, so you're ready to pounce when a deal becomes available. Also, look for promotions with your preferred loyalty program. For instance, you can earn Marriott Rewards points bonuses for linking your Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts with the program. You can also try your luck at entering key terms, such as "sale" and "discount" paired with the name of the airlines or hotel brand you're most interested in on Twitter to look for limited-time promotions.
Stay plugged in with Honey.
Chances are you've heard of the browser plug-in Honey. The extension (available on Chrome, Safari and Firefox) allows consumers to stay attuned to enticing hotel deals and promotions, in addition to deals from popular online retailers such as Macy's and Amazon. With the extension, you can knock up to 55 percent of the price of your hotel. With "HoneyKeys," members can stay attuned to exclusive prices, search for deals and book their stay. Best of all, with the extension, Honey will automatically alert you of coupon codes as you shop around – and you won't have to pay a penny to unlock promotions.
Call the hotel.
It pays to call your hotel in advance of your stay and ask about the lowest available rates. Ask for the front desk or manager rather than the reservations line before inquiring about better deals and current promotions. And before you call, make sure to do your homework and look online for the best rates first. Also, consider booking a nonrefundable fare, so you can seize upon a discounted rate if the property has more rooms to spare and rates take a dip. Another tip: Make sure to highlight any AAA promotions, and if you're eligible, inquire about military and senior citizen rates.
Head for the hills.
If you're contemplating taking a ski trip, consider opting for an early season getaway rather than making the pilgrimage home for the holiday, Saglie says. "Thanksgiving often coincides with the inception of ski season," he explains. "The first three weeks or so of ski season often generate savings," he explains, emphasizing that the period marks an ideal window ahead of the peak-season winter holiday frenzy, as well as January and February, when the increased snowfall tempts an influx of skiers and snowboarders, translating to higher prices. You can often find early snowfall, few crowds and attractive packages in November in popular destinations such as Keystone, Colorado; Mammoth Mountain, California; and Killington, Vermont.
Bad weather upend your plans? Call the airline and stay prepared.
When inclement weather strikes, wreaking havoc on your well-laid-out travel plans, call your airline directly to get rebooked as quickly as possible. You should also stand in line, but calling the airline customer service agent directly can be the quickest and most effective way to get your plans back on track. Also, make sure to stay looped in on the latest developments and flight changes by downloading the airline's affiliated app and proactively searching for availability with handy tools such as TripIt Pro and World Mate. If you're traveling through storm-prone areas, such as Chicago, it's also a practical move to consider investing in travel insurance to receive trip cancellation and interruption benefits.
Opt for a budget-friendly vacation rental.
"For those who may not want to squeeze in with the entire family, it's worth checking out vacation rentals in nearby locations for additional options," Solomito says. After all, you can often find vacation rentals with cost-saving amenities and features, like kitchens and internet access, which can mean serious savings if you're planning an extended trip. To maximize value, you'll want to stay for at least three nights. Also make sure to shop around on popular sites such as Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO, along with lesser-known companies like Tripping.com, to turn up the best deals based on your price point, preferred amenities and other factors.
Rethink no-frills bare fares.
While low-cost basic economy fares available with major airlines offer an enticing option for budget-minded travelers, they are best suited for jetsetters who "don't care where they sit on the plane and are low-maintenance on the travel-comfort-expectations spectrum," Klee says. Factor in how many items you'll be bringing in your carry-on and whether you'll want to sit next to travel companions, particularly if you're traveling with kids. Saglie also suggests weighing the caveats associated with these rock-bottom fares. While they can look tempting, added perks, such as the ability to bring on a carry-on and select your seats "often come standard with the next fare class, which often doesn't cost that much more," he explains.
Circumvent Wi-Fi fees.
While on the road, finding consistent and reliable Wi-Fi can be a challenge. But instead of paying a lofty fee or forgoing access to the internet, turn to trusted tools such as Free WiFi Finder and Workfrom. With the free app Free WiFi Finder, you can pinpoint free hotpots across the globe – without needing an internet connection. Meanwhile, with Workfrom, you can find business-friendly spaces and cafes and pinpoint need-to-know information such as business hours, availability and Wi-Fi speeds. You can also turn to the frequently updated FoxNomad blog, which lists the wireless passwords for airports (and affiliated lounges) across the globe.
Go somewhere outside-the-box.
If you're skipping the annual pilgrimage over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house in favor of an alternative Thanksgiving escape, use the Google Flights Discover tool as your guide. Simply punch in a few details, such as your travel dates and preferred interests, and the platform will show you cost-effective options. Leave the "Where to" section blank to identify destinations that appeal to you based on price and interests (think: wildlife, culture, food or nature). What's more, you can peruse a price graph that forecasts when airfares are likely to drop, so you can book your plane tickets strategically.
Rent your car to another traveler.
If you're not planning to use your own set of wheels for the holiday, consider using a peer-to-peer platform to your advantage to earn money while you travel. With TravelCar, which offers drop-off locations in major U.S. cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, you can simply park your car at the airport for free and rent your car out to fellow travelers. Don't want to rent your car? You can still take advantage of rock-bottom parking prices. Best of all, your vehicle will be covered with liability insurance and you'll receive payment per each mile put on your car. And renters can secure up to 70 percent in savings versus a traditional rental car agency.
Stay in a financial hub.
Since most travelers are traveling out of necessity for Thanksgiving, in-demand tourist destinations (and business centers) offer bargain-friendly prices during the holiday, including Orlando, Florida, and New York City, Surrey says. According to Hopper's, the destinations with the highest price premiums for Thanksgiving are Denver, Boston, Oakland, California, and Atlanta. Saglie also recommends heading to a major financial hub city (think: New York City or Chicago) rather than heading home for the holiday. In financial districts, "you can save big on hotels," and find greater availability since business travel slows down through Thanksgiving week, Saglie says.
Stay loyal to your preferred travel booking sites.
If you prefer booking rooms with online travel agencies such as Hotels.com, Expedia and Booking.com, consider enrolling as a member. You can collect loyalty points with programs like Orbitz Rewards, which yield added privileges such as waived resort fees, complimentary breakfast and free stays. Meanwhile, with Orbitz Rewards, you can take advantage of special members-only promotions. And with Hotels.com Rewards, participants can also earn a free night for every 10 nights booked and take advantage of exclusive rates for members – translating to up to 50 percent off at properties across the globe.
Retreat to the lounge – without paying a high fee.
When you need a break from headache-inducing holiday travel stress, slip away to an airport lounge. The handy app Lounge Buddy offers detailed information about perks such as free snacks, beverages and internet at nearby lounge areas (along with those that require a nominal fee) based on your frequent flyer program, status and loyalty cards. Best of all, you won't need to be flying in first class to be guested in – as long as you know where to go. Some co-branded credit cards, including the United MileagePlus Club Card and the Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express, even grant free entry regardless of your itinerary.
Beware of hidden hotel fees.
Avoid incurring sky-high extra charges for everything from early check-in fees in-room safe fees along with minibar, internet and parking fees. While some surcharges are certainly worth the added expense (think: Club level privileges such as snacks and complimentary Wi-Fi access), others can easily be dodged without compromising on comfort. For example, many hotel loyalty programs offer complimentary Wi-Fi access simply for signing up – enabling you to skip paying an extra $10 to $20. And before you raid your minibar, consider stowing away your own snacks or venturing to a nearby grocery store to stock up rather than paying a premium. Another easy way to save: Skip on-site parking for an extra $25 to $35. Instead, turn to BestParking.com to pinpoint cost-effective garages nearby.
Compare, compare, compare.
With a slew of direct booking campaigns that aim to entice price-sensitive travelers to cut out the middleman – and 10 to 20 percent commissions – hotel companies are offering exclusive discounts and benefits such as Wi-Fi access and mobile check-ins for booking direct. What's more, major hotel chains like Hilton and Marriott are touting a "Best Rate Guarantee." With Marriott, if you pinpoint a better rate with an online travel agency, the company will not only give you an equivalent rate, but also shave 25 percent off your stay. So, make sure to compare prices on third-party booking sites, and if you see a lower price, take advantage of price matches and added discounts.
Try an airfare consolidator.
If you're interested in skipping town and embarking on an international trip over the holiday, consider turning to an airfare consolidator. Here's how they work: Airfare consolidators buy tickets directly from the airlines at deeply discounted prices and sell reduced fares to consumers and agents at a lower rate. There are especially good bargains for long-haul international flights. However, there are some noteworthy caveats. Typically, fares are nonrefundable. Plus, while some consolidators allow you to accrue points with an affiliate frequent flyer program, others do not offer eligibility. Also, while browsing fares, make sure to read the fine print and shop around to make sure you're reviewing all your options and netting the best values. Reputable consolidators include AirlineConsolidator.com and AirTreks.com.
Carry savvy hotel apps.
Wait until the last minute to book your accommodations? Well, if you've dawdled on locking in your plans, fret not: You can still score a deal with the right tools, such as Secret Escapes and Hotel Tonight. While Secret Escapes can help you pinpoint members-only promotions and flash sales that are up to 70 percent off the original price, Hotel Tonight caters to spontaneous jetsetters by offering discounted rates for unsold rooms booked at the last minute. What's more, you can now book a spur-of-the-moment room on a whim or up to seven days in advance of your trip. Best of all, you don't need to pay any membership fee to take advantage of these tools.
Download smart dining tools and plan ahead.
If you're planning an extended holiday trip, an easy way to cut costs is opting for inexpensive meals following your Thanksgiving Day feast. With Groupon, you can easily pinpoint dining discounts based on your destination, and if you're interested in a fine dining experience, consider eating out for breakfast or lunch, which is often less expensive than dinner (and tends to offer greater availability than prime dinner hours). Restaurants.com can also help you identify eateries in the area with discounts. And when you dine out, make sure to accumulate points by paying with a travel card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card that allows you to double dip points on travel-related expenses, including meals.
Weigh the cost-savings benefits of connections.
Booking flights with a layover can often yield a greater value than nonstop routes, but you should consider whether you want to roll the dice with risky weather conditions, jampacked planes and frequent delays. If you do decide to book a connecting flight, consider opting for connections in warm-weather hubs (think: Phoenix rather than Chicago), where you're less prone to weather-related interruptions and tight connections. If you must book a connecting flight, it's a smart idea to download the airline's app to stay attuned to status alerts and gate changes and use tools such as iFly.com and GateGuru to familiarize with airport maps and get to your next gate swiftly.
Reserve a cost-effective rental car from Costco.
Car rentals often come attached to exorbitant price tags – especially around the holidays and peak-travel periods. That's where the wholesale club store comes in, with enticing discounts and promotions. Costco offers coupons for Enterprise, Avis, Budget and Alamo, making it easy to find a car that meets your needs, based on your desired model, brand and location. Use the Low Price Finder tool to find the best possible rate with the applicable member discount and coupon based on your inputted car type, reservation, travel dates, location and length of your trip. Even better, you won't have to pay a driver fee for U.S.-based rentals.
Consider a budget airline.
With the rise of low-cost carriers, it's easy to be enticed to book rock-bottom fares with a discount carrier. And while you may compromise on comfort with limited legroom and a slew of fees for everything – from printing your boarding pass to in-flight refreshments – if your top priority is getting a cheaper ticket, you can net a deal. As Surrey puts it: "It depends on how much you're planning to bring. If you're alright with just bringing a carry-on, then it may be worth it to fly a low-cost carrier or buy a basic-economy ticket." If you'd rather fly with a major carrier, depart from airports that low-cost carriers operate in, so you can benefit from reduced ticket prices dangled by major airlines to attract price-sensitive travelers.
Collect and leverage loyalty points.
Staying loyal to particular hotel loyalty and frequent flyer travel programs can mean access to members-only promotions and deals. Take advantage of lucrative credit card sign-up bonuses and stay attuned to exclusive sales and discounts offered by your preferred hotel loyalty and airline programs. With some rewards programs, it's easy to rack up points and miles without logging thousands of miles or staying at brand-backed chains. For example, you can earn points that get you award stays and flights by shopping at affiliated airline mall portals and using associated dining platforms with JetBlue, Delta, United, American and Southwest. And with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you can accumulate points by paying your phone and cable bills with the card.
Prepare for the unexpected with the right tools.
Aside from checking the latest weather reports, it's a smart idea to protect your flight with savvy apps like Freebird to dodge unnecessary stress, time and money when getting your plans back on track in the event of a delay or cancellation. With Freebird, you can pay a one-time $19 fee per trip to insure your flight and get rebooked at no addition charge. If your flight is delayed by four hours or longer or it's canceled, you'll receive a notification from Freebird and will have the opportunity to rebook instantly. What's more, even if you purchased your original ticket with airline miles, you can still receive a new ticket from Freebird. Looking to rack up miles? You can collect points with the new ticket, too.
Pay for your flight over time in installments.
If you're planning a spur-of-the-moment Thanksgiving trip and you don't want to pay for it in full, you can opt for an alternative payment platform. The tool Airfordable allows you to put down an upfront deposit for your ticket and make biweekly payments (in addition to 10 to 20 percent of the ticket price). The only snag: You won't receive your ticket until your last payment is complete. Alternatively, CheapAir.com offers zero percent financing on Thanksgiving flights with the monthly payments option, Klee explains. "This alternative is great for folks who might not have the money to buy right now but don't want to get stung by those pesky price hikes closer to the holiday," he adds.
Price out (and book) flights individually.
While it may be tempting to book tickets at the same time if you're traveling with multiple travel companions, you're better off searching for seats separately. Reservation systems price tickets at the same rate to all passengers on one reservation. So, if you book four seats at once, you'll automatically be bumped up to a higher price category, even if there are one or two seats available at a cheaper price. Conversely, if you search for one or two seats individually, you may be able to snag a lower rate, rather than paying a high price for every seat on your reservation.
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