It’s been a weird few years for travel. First, of course, there was the Covid pandemic. Then there was chaos as people returned to the road—and destinations struggled to keep up. Now, there’s inflation.
According to the U.S. Travel Association, a major trade group, travel prices increased by 2.5% just from September to October. Airfares are up more than 40% from a year ago (when they were admittedly low) and gas is up 18%.
Some travelers will probably decide to stay home this holiday season—especially if they haven’t booked their trips yet. Prices aren’t just high for the holidays—the closer we get, the higher they generally go.
But all is not lost. There are ways to save on your holiday vacation that will keep your costs more in control. Here are nine ideas.
If you’re flying this season, remember that luggage fees can really add up. If every member of a family of four checks a single bag on a round-trip ticket, that can cost almost $300 on some airlines.
There are several ways to reduce or even eliminate those costs. Pack less. Combine your luggage (does everyone really need their own checked bag). If you’re carrying gifts, consider shipping them to your destination–especially if you’re ordering them online anyway and traveling to someone’s house. And if you have travel credit cards—particularly airline cards—make sure to take advantage of perks like free checked bags.
Go On Off Days
According to Expedia, the most expensive day to travel this December is Thursday the 22, with Saturday the 17the running a close second. But prices can be dramatically lower on other days. Flying on Christmas can cost less than half the price of a peak flight. If you catch a very early or late flight, you can still be part of the celebrations. Same goes for Thanksgiving—and if you can’t bear traveling on the actual holiday, going on Black Friday can also cut costs dramatically.
Wait Until the Last Minute
If you’re traveling to a big city and are willing to take a bit of a gamble, consider holding off on booking. Travel-booking app Hopper told The Washington Post that hotels often offer big deals to fill rooms at the 11th hour. But if you go this route, you have to be flexible and not have your heart set on a particular property, or even neighborhood.
Take a Redeye
This is a worthwhile hack if you’re one of those lucky people who can easily conk out on a plane. Overnight flights are often less expensive than daytime flights. As a bonus, they’re generally less crowded as well.
Swap, Don’t Rent
There is a whole subculture of people who swear by home-swapping—trading homes with people in other destinations for a certain amount of time. Platforms like HomeExchange and Love Home Swap offer marketplaces for making swap matches; you can lend out your own home for credits to use later, or for the use of someone else’s house at the same time. Feel weird about handing your house over to strangers? Mine your own social circles for an informal trade.
Download a Gas App
When gas prices are up, it can really bring a road trip down. But there are ways to shave costs on filling your tank. Download the GasBuddy app to make sure you’re hitting the cheapest filling stations on your route—not just the ones that are most convenient. Consider paying in cash; some gas stations charge less because they avoid credit card processing fees. And speaking of credit cards: If you have a rewards card you haven’t been using, see if it gives you bonus points or cash back at gas stations.
Pack Your Own Snacks
It can be a hassle to tote your own food. But if you have a long journey planned, it can really help you cut costs—not to mention save time and moods when you’re in a hurry. Airport and gas station food isn’t always the best quality, and since vendors are dealing with a largely captive audience, prices are extra high.
Reserve the Rental Car in Advance
This is the most powerful way to save money on rental cars, according to AAA. Another way to save is to explore renting from a non-airport branch. They tend to see less demand than airports, particularly during the holidays, and may have better prices as a result. Just make sure it’s manageable to get there, and their hours work with your arrival and departure times.
Leverage Your Memberships
Are you enrolled in AAA, professional associations and other membership groups? Check the benefits. You may be entitled to discounts on hotels or rental cars. Some will give you VIP membership in loyalty programs, which means you might be able to get perks like credits, free breakfasts with a hotel room, or extra loyalty points. The same goals for prestige credit cards: Check for benefits you may have overlooked in the past. In inflationary times, every bit can count.