Clever tricks to slash travel costs
If you're planning on traveling over the holidays, you're not alone. Last November, AAA forecasted more than 46 million Americans to take trips over the Thanksgiving week, the highest travel volume since 2007. And there's no reason to expect fewer travelers this year. But if you haven't locked in your travel plans, there's a silver lining: Gas prices are low, and airfare isn't at a premium yet. To help you score the best savings during peak travel season, we asked experts to divulge their secret strategies for trimming costs over the holidays.
"People need to start to look and book their travel now," says Tom Spagnola, senior vice president, supplier relations at CheapOair. To nab a deal for turkey day travel, the key is conducting flight searches now, before demand spikes in October and November. According to Gabe Saglie, senior editor at Travelzoo, for substantial savings, your best bet is acting on fare sales as they crop up because seat availability will be more limited in October. And if you're traveling over major winter holidays, George Hobica, creator of Airfarewatchdog, advises booking your flights before Dec. 14 for the best bargains.
Use competition to your advantage.
Experts say choosing a route where many airlines are vying for your business can help you find lower rates. "The consumer has more opportunity," Spagnola says. Flying from major hubs like New York and Dallas, for example, can help you snap up great deals since multiple carriers are trying to court you, Hobica adds.
Consider alternate airports.
Looking for alternate hubs within a 25- to 50-mile
radius can help you snag bargain rates, Spagnola says. For example, flying
in or out of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport rather than Miami International Airport can yield
savings. Hobica suggests comparing pricing for flights from Dallas Love Field
Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth International, and if you're planning an
international trip, looking at hubs like Gatwick Airport rather than Heathrow
Airport in London.
Choose when you book wisely.
Fares fluctuate, so travelers should check rates frequently to secure the best prices, Hobica explains. Rather than simply trusting that the lowest rates pop up on Tuesdays, sign up for airfare alerts on sites such as Airfarewatchdog.com, he says, noting that "oftentimes there will be a sale that's less than normal for holiday travel." Other great sites for tracking rates include Kayak.com, which alerts you when fares go down based on pricing trends, and Yapta.com, which pings you if the price of your flight drops after you book. And Saglie suggests comparing rates on aggregators to get a sense of real-time airfares across all carriers before buying your tickets. If you're considering bundling your trip into a vacation package, these sites can be a smart starting point for piecing together your vacation, he explains.
Steer away from the crowds.
It may seem like a no-brainer, but to maximize value during the peak travel season, visit less-frequented destinations over the holidays. Planning a trip across the pond during the holidays is a smart idea for bargain-hunters, since some business class seat fares can be up to 50 percent less at this time of year, Hobica says. Other affordable holiday travel options are business-friendly cities like New York and Toronto. According to Saglie, apart from the top ski destinations across Canada, you can score deep discounts during the weeks surrounding the holidays, thanks to lower demand and the strength of the U.S. dollar.
Consider cashing in those rewards points.
The busy holiday travel season is a strategic time
to redeem your rewards points and miles for a couple of reasons. First, by
booking an award seat now, you can ensure availability, Spagnola explains, as
many programs, including Southwest Rapid Rewards, JetBlue TrueBlue and Virgin
America Elevate, do not impose blackout dates. Second, you can count on lucrative
loyalty perks that you would have to pay for otherwise, such as priority
boarding, expedited security screenings and checked baggage fees, Saglie says.
Hit the road.
"The knee-jerk reaction is to start looking at airfare," Saglie explains. But the reality is, the best bargains might be found on the road, thanks to average gas prices falling year over year. According to a September AAA Travel report, gas prices are $1.06 less on average per gallon than last year.
By loading up on activities and food before you
hit the road or friendly skies, you'll steer clear of paying for extras
throughout your journey. Saglie recommends stocking up on items before you bunk
down in hotels over the holidays, too. For instance, you could purchase an
on-demand movie at your hotel for $20 or load up movies on your own device before
you go, he advises.
Stay engaged on social media.
"If anybody's looking to
fly with a specific destination and airline, game social media," Saglie suggests. Why? Savvy shoppers can find flash sales and promotions with companies on
social media platforms, which publicize promotions, he says. Companies like
JetBlue and Virgin America, for example, offer limited-time offers for