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Holiday Travel: How To Save Money and Navigate the Chaos

5 minute read

By Katie Ormsby

‘Tis the season for holiday travel. That means crowded airports, expensive flights, congested roads, and high gas prices. While the headaches of holiday travel are often worth it once you get to your destination, it can be a painful and pricey process.

As you probably know, holiday travel and high prices typically go hand in hand. But this year is shaping up to be even more expensive than usual. Fortunately, you can beat the prices and the chaos with a bit of planning and a few hacks. Let’s get into it!

Strategically Book Your Flights

Prepare for some sticker shock: Thanksgiving airfare is running 25% more than last year and Christmas airfare is up 55%, according to CBS News. And the source says, “prices are increasing at the rate of about 4% per week.” So, you may want to book as soon as possible.

In addition to booking early, you can save significant money by flying before the rush or on the holiday itself. “If you fly the Tuesday or Wednesday before Thanksgiving or a few days before Christmas,” then The Seattle Times says, “your ticket price rises by as much as $300.”


Ship Your Holiday Gifts

Checking bags is expensive. For instance, The Points Guy says many airlines charge “$30 for the first checked bag, $40 for the second, and $150 for the third.” That really adds up if you check gifts. Instead, use the mail to ship presents directly to your recipients.

Of course, you’ll want to let them know when to expect the packages. That way, they won’t accidentally open them. And as an added bonus, you won’t have to spend time checking and collecting your bags at airports — or even worse, deal with lost or delayed luggage.


Avoid Travel Hot Spots

If you’re traveling home for the holidays, then you don’t have flexibility when it comes to the destination. But those traveling strictly for a vacation can save money by avoiding popular cities. For example, The Active Times says experienced travelers steer clear of these spots during the holidays:

  • Honolulu, Hawaii
  • NYC, New York
  • Park City, Utah
  • Cancun, Mexico
  • Aspen, Colorado

High demand not only drives prices up but also creates crowds. However, venturing off the beaten path can be a great way to score deals and escape throngs of tourists. Consider alternative travel destinations like Puerto Rico instead of Hawaii and Philadelphia instead of New York City.


Save Time With TSA PreCheck

Long security lines can really put a damper on your holiday spirit. Fortunately, there is a solution worth considering: TSA PreCheck. The TSA says 94% of TSA PreCheck passengers waited less than 5 minutes in November 2021.

Members get access to time-saving perks like shorter lines and not having to remove shoes, laptops, or liquid toiletries. The membership lasts five years and costs $85 to apply. However, some credit cards cover the fee as a member benefit. So, check that out!


Make the Most of Gas Apps

While gas prices fell every day for more than three months, CNN says prices are inching up again. Luckily, gas apps can help take the sting out of rising prices in a few ways. Gas Guru and MapQuest, for example, help drivers compare prices at nearby gas stations.

Other gas apps like GasBuddy and UpSide offer users opportunities to save up to 25 cents per gallon on fuel. Additionally, several chains of gas stations have rewards programs that can save you money. Research your options before hitting the road for the holidays.


Look Into Prepaid Toll Programs

If your trip over the river and through the woods involves toll roads, then a prepaid toll pass might save you some trouble. According to Border West Expressway, the U.S. has more than 5,000 miles of toll roads. So, it isn’t uncommon for road trips to involve a toll road, bridge, or tunnel.

Prepaid toll programs can save you from sitting in line to hand over money to a toll collector. They can also save you from the hassle of remembering to have exact change. Instead of toll booths, some states scan license plates to send bills to people without prepaid passes. But that route often includes fees.


Book Your Hotel Stay for Less

Much like airfare, the price of hotel rooms is up this year. However, you can employ a few strategies to save. NerdWallet suggests booking directly with the hotel for starters. That’s because you’re more likely to score a deal since the hotel doesn’t have to pay a commission to a travel site.

It can also help to look into available discount programs. For example, many hotels offer AAA and AARP discounts. And while they come with risk, the source says non-refundable prepaid rates can “shave a nice chunk off the cost of a hotel stay.” So, there are ways to score deals.


Consider Overnight and Indirect Flights

Beyond booking early and avoiding popular travel days, thrifty travelers can save on their flights in additional ways. For example, an overnight flight can be a great way to save money on your airfare and avoid crowded security lines.

Indirect flights are another way to save money. In fact, CNBC says you can save 20% on average just by booking a flight with a layover instead of a non-stop flight. Sure, layovers extend your travel time. But the savings can add up.


Pack Your Own Snacks

Whether you’re driving or flying this holiday season, it’s a smart move to pack snacks. You’ll save time on the road by not needing to make pit stops for food. And at the airport, packing snacks can save you money since food and drinks are so overpriced.

TSA says you can pack solid food in your carry-on luggage. And while you can’t bring a filled water bottle through security, you can bring an empty one. Since Insider says bottled water is marked up 200% at some airports, the savings are nothing to sneeze at.


The Bottom Line

The holiday travel season is right around the corner, and unfortunately, prices are expected to be even higher than usual. There is some good news, though. Savvy travelers can use several strategies to score savings on everything from flights to hotels.

It can take some legwork, flexibility, and creativity, but you don’t have to break the bank to get home for the holidays or jet off to an exciting destination. Making these strategic choices can keep money in your pocket for other holiday expenses like gifts.


Katie Ormsby