Top Budget Travel Hacks for Christmas & New Years

By: Brooke Niemeyer

We’d like to say thank you to our guest blogger, Brooke Niemeyer, for this excellent contribution about holiday savings. It’s hard to believe you might have room in your budget for travel after your holiday shopping is done, but with Brooke’s tips, it *might* be possible to take that last-minute journey.

Brooke Niemeyer is a reporter and editor for She writes about a variety of personal finance topics, with work featured on CBS, TIME, The Huffington Post, MSN, Yahoo! Finance, and others. She has a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University and was a reporter for NBC before joining the team.

This time of year, saving money is a top priority for all cash-strapped holiday travelers. But how can you save when money is short? Between shopping and decorating, it can be hard to find room to budget for travel-related expenses.

But between Christmas and New Year’s, holiday travel is at the forefront of many people’s minds. According to the most recent National Household Travel Survey, conducted by the Bureau of Transportation, the average person will travel 275 miles over the Christmas and New Year’s holiday. To help you save on all your trips, here are a few holiday travel tricks

1. Timing Is Everything
If you have a bit more of a flexible schedule, you may want to consider flying when most other people aren’t. Logically, it makes sense that you’ll be able to save if you travel on the holidays themselves, as that’s when most people won’t be traveling. However, if that’s just not in the cards, there are some dates you may want to stay away from, in order to get the best deals. This includes the days leading up to Christmas, as this is when people are headed somewhere to celebrate. If you can avoid traveling these days, your wallet will likely thank you.

Many airlines have a “flexible dates” option you can select, which will provide a chart of options so you can compare prices with your schedule to help you find the best deal.

2. Use Your Rewards
If you’ve been racking up the rewards or using your travel credit card, now may be the time to finally cash in. If you can use rewards to help cover all, or at least part, of your travel expenses, you’ll have extra funds to cover any gifts, meals or libations you need to pay for during your travels. Take a look at all your options and see how they can help you save on your holiday adventures.

3. Head to Big Cities
If you aren’t heading to Grandma’s for the holidays, and are simply looking to get away, where you decide to go will certainly have an impact on how expensive your holiday travel is. You may want to consider places that are in their “off season” time of year, like the Caribbean, or big cities, as many people tend to leave these locations to go visit family elsewhere. Add to that, these big cities tend to have more hotels, so there’s more rooms to fill and more deals to be had. So, if you’ve always wanted to visit the Big Apple or want to ring in the New Year on the Las Vegas Strip, now may be your time to do so.

4. Look at Your Membership Discounts
Are you a loyalty member of a hotel or airline? Consider looking to see what sort of deals you may get with them for your holiday travels. But think beyond those as well. Groups like AARP or AAA may offer deals you can take advantage of. And your membership to a warehouse store may even help you land travel deals. Go through the plastic in your wallet — you never know what perks you might find.

5. Take a Flight Bump
If you’ve ever spent any time in an airport, you’ve likely heard that call for any passengers who are willing to give up their seat on an overbooked flight, all in exchange for a travel voucher and a seat on the next flight. Well, if you have built enough time into your schedule, you may be able to be the one volunteering to take that flight bump and save on your next flight. Granted, it won’t help you save on this trip, or get your adventure started any sooner, but it still can help you save in the long run.

6. Ditch the Added Expenses
Grabbing a water bottle at the airport may not seem like that big of a deal, but by the time you get one for every member of the family, that little (but practically essential) expense can really add up. Instead, consider bringing empty reusable bottles and filling them up at a water fountain in the airport after you’ve gone through security. See if there are other expenses you can cut back on too, like bringing your own snacks or sandwich from home instead of hitting a restaurant while you wait to board the plane.

And of course, there’s always the checked baggage fees. If you want, you can try to fit all of your belongings into a carry-on bag so you can avoid that charge. Or, you can go back to that travel credit card we mentioned earlier and see if that plastic can help you save, as many of these cards provide consumers with their first checked bag for free.

Few experiences are more rewarding than spending time with friends and loved ones over the holidays. Finding space in your budget to save can be difficult, but this year, using these practical tips, your travel time doesn’t have to break the bank.

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