How to Save on Holiday Travel
Sometimes, traveling during the holiday season is imperative. Seeing friends and family, bringing gifts along and booking flights at the right time can all add to your travel experience. Be smart about jet-setting to Grandma's this year, and read up on our tips to help save on holiday travel.
Book now: The golden rule of booking flights and travel for the holidays is to book as soon as you can. (Yesterday if possible.) If you see a good deal, pounce on it. For US Thanksgiving (known by Canadians as one of the best shopping weekends of the year), now is the time to lock in that low airfare. For Christmas travel, you have until early October to book.
Alternate airports: If you're homeward-bound, check out other airports in the area. You may find that secondary airports are cheaper to fly to than the international airport. Bellingham is cheaper to fly out of than Vancouver or Seattle-Tacoma.
Be open about where you go: If you are not going home for the holidays, be flexible with your destinations. Can you snap up a cheap flight to Europe at the end of November? It's the off-season over there. Rather than a beach getaway, consider a city break. Select one of the lesser-known ski resorts or a second-tier city in a sunny clime.
Dodge peak travel day surcharges: Get out the calendar and choose your travel days carefully. It's usually cheaper to fly during the week than at the weekends. The first and last flights of the day are also usually less in demand than the flights in daylight hours, which is especially true for single flyers. Families with small children will usually not benefit from taking a 4am flight or an 11pm flight.
Watch out for the peak holiday surcharges that came into effect last year. Most of the major US airlines levy this extra charge for traveling on very specific days, the Sunday after Thanksgiving for example, the days clustered around Christmas (but not Christmas Day) and, in the States, Super Bowl weekend.
Travel on the big day: You could seriously save by not being with Mom the night before Thanksgiving or on Christmas Eve. If you can fly on the big day, when everyone is already sipping the egg nog or making last-minute preparations for the feast, fares will be undoubtedly be cheaper.
Think about all your options, and don’t feel obligated to book all your travel with one carrier. It may be cheaper to book two one-way flights, or make a connection.
Compare apples with apples: Look at what is included in your flight and consider your needs. Does the airline charge for cabin baggage or checked luggage? What will you get by way of in-flight snacks? Will you have to pay to use a pillow? Will you get a seat assignment? Will you have to pay for extra legroom?
If the cost of things that were once part of the airfare strike you as being too high then consider flying with a full-service airline. The ticket price will most likely be higher, but what’s included may add up to what you would spend on top of the other airline’s airfare anyway.
Let gifts make their own way: Remember that many flyers will have to pay baggage charges. Be utterly ruthless while packing. It's a given that you won't pack toiletries and that you may very well wear most of your clothes on the flight, to cut down on luggage charges. Packing gifts in checked luggage may send you over the "free" limit so use the internet to buy gifts and have them delivered straight to your intended recipients. Or, mail them yourself.
This also applies for the return flight. If you have scored lots of presents or have gone shopping consider shipping them home rather than showing up at the airport with an extra suitcase. Excess baggage charges can be a nice little earner for the airlines.