It’s too late to get a cheap holiday flight, right? Wrong, says Christopher Elliott, a syndicated travel columnist who consistently gives me good travel advice. There’s lots you can do to save money on holiday travel this Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas.
Looking for a cheap holiday vacation? There are a handful.
If you travel by car
More than 80% of holiday travel is done by car, Elliott says. “We’re a driving nation.” Check your tires’ air pressure, remove excess weight, maintain your car, drive steadily, and stick to the speed limit to get the highest miles per gallon.
Buy the cheapest gas with the Cheap Gas! app, which Coupon Cravings recommends. The app compares station prices by proximity to you.
Avoid back ups. If you are headed toward a major construction delay, taking a street detour may save gas and time.
Traveling alone? The bus may be cheaper, especially if you don’t need a car at your destination.
Drive the most efficient car. A difference of 10 mpg at $2.80 per gallon (the current average gas price) over a 800 mile road trip will cost you $19.
Pack a cooler. There are plenty tasty meals you can pack for day long car trips. Chances are the food is going to be a lot healthier than what you can get on the roadside.
If you are flying
Time it right. Avoid traveling with the herd by flying on the actual holiday.ï¿½ The deals are better, the planes are half full (imagine the leg room!), and the flight attendants are extra jolly. “When everyone else zigs, you zag,” Elliott said. This may be your only option for getting a cheap holiday flight if you don’t have your tickets.
Get miles. Fly on an airline that gives you frequent flyer miles if fares are comparable. One good side effect of airlines merging is that newly aligned carriers are sharing miles.
Vegas, baby, Vegas. “Hotels are doing a lot to off set the extra cost of air travel, subsidizing baggage fees,” Elliott said. Call or check hotel sites before booking to see if it offers this perk. Free shuttle service from the airport is typical among major Vegas hotels.
Watch baggage limits. A chart on Fare Compare lists fees for baggage, pets, edibles, seat upgrades, and reservation fees. Southwest is the only airline that allows two checked bags for free, but if you are traveling with a LOT of luggage, Virgin America may be cheaper at $25 per bag up to 10 bags.
Buy right now. Airlines have reduced the number of flights over the past few years, doing away with the excess capacity that brought us ridiculously low fares. Airline mergers aren’t helping. When demand goes up around the holidays, so do prices.
Go where the deals take you. If you’re not expected at home, that is. Look for last minute travel packages from hotels and airlines eager for customers.
If you go by train
Traveling is the destination when you go by train. One reader paid $2,061 including meals for three people to go from California to Washington D.C. by Amtrak sleeper car. Lots of hang time with the family. Isn’t that what the holidays are all about?