Flying is one of the fastest and cheapest ways for many people to travel for the holidays, but it still isn't easy nor cheap. Not only does holiday flying require shipping gifts ahead or finding room to pack them while meeting TSA guidelines, but it also involves miscellaneous travel-related fees and expenses. Tips for saving money while flying any time of year also apply to the holidays, but holiday travel also has its own unique challenges. Besides the obvious cost of the flight, there are many places to save money from the moment you book to the moment you arrive at your destination. Let's get into it.
Booking Holiday Flights
If you're not already planning to purchase your tickets for 'free' using airline or credit card rewards, using one now will save you money on future travel. Consider these further tips for booking flights around the holidays:
Clear your browser's cookies or use a private browser. If you've ever browsed booking sites and returned to find the prices had increased within a matter of hours, your cookies could be the culprit. Browsers track your activity and booking sites use this information to raise prices based on perceived demand. The option to clear your browsing history is usually located under the browser's settings.
Use price predictors and refund websites. Before you book, use services like Bing's price predictor so you can choose the cheapest departure and return dates. Other tools like Yapta's FareIQ can help you get a refund if the price of a flight you've already booked goes down.
Travel on the holiday for the cheapest rates. Three of the most popular (and expensive) times to fly are the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the few days before and after Christmas, and New Year's Eve. If your family gathering isn't scheduled on the actual holiday, traveling will be a lot smoother and the flights cheaper if you avoid these dates.
Getting to the Airport
Not only are flights more expensive around the holidays, but airport parking rates also go up too. Pay a friend to drive you to avoid an outrageous fee (and keep your vehicle safer), or at least treat them to lunch. Otherwise, use public transportation.
It can't be said enough: give yourself extra time to avoid missing your flight due to traffic, winter weather, or unexpectedly long security lines. In addition to more travelers, airports heighten security around the holidays, so check in early with your airline (or better yet, download their app) to get updates on expected wait times and any other changes that could cost both time and money.
Avoiding Baggage Fees
An increasing number of airlines charge for checked baggage. You can save money by traveling light with just a carry on and personal item, or offer to gate check your bag. The heavier-booked a flight, the less overhead storage space, so gate checking could save you the normal checked luggage fee and let you carry more. Before you plan to do this, make sure it's free.
If you do need to check luggage, do it online before you arrive since airlines often charge lower fees for the earlier commitment. Also, pre-weigh your bags to avoid overweight baggage fees.
What to (and not to) Pack
Don't pre-wrap gifts. The TSA may have to unwrap them, anyway, so you'll be wasting money and time.
Pack an empty water bottle. Fill up for free at the water fountain before your flight to avoid either losing a filled container to security or being forced to buy overpriced bottled water to quench your thirst.
Bring your own headphones. Some flights offer entertainment but charge extra for headphones, so if you're a movie watcher, plan ahead.
Pack your own food. Airport food is expensive and airline food can be gross. Pack granola bars, sandwiches, and healthy snack items that are TSA-approved.
Practiced together, all of these tips can help you save a little extra money on your holiday travel so you can afford to spend more on the ones you love. Happy travels!