Whether you’re planning an international vacation or taking the kids to see their grandparents, here’s how to book the best possible trip
The holidays are nearly upon us, which means it might be time to start thinking about travel (if you haven’t made plans already). By booking your flights and hotel stays as early as possible, you have the best chance of locking in the best deals.
Flexibility also helps, especially if you have the privilege of choosing not only your travel dates but also your holiday travel destination. If you already know that you can only fly on certain dates or are only planning to travel to a single location — Grandma’s house, for example — every day you delay your travel planning could cost you money.
Luckily, we’ve got some expert advice to help you find the best flights and plan the best trip. We asked Gunnar Olson, Flight Deal Analyst at Thrifty Traveler, how busy families can save money on holiday travel. He shared his thoughts on when to book, which apps to use and what to do if you don’t have a lot of flexibility in your travel plans.
Here’s what you need to know.
In this article:
Make your plans as soon as possible
Flights and hotel rooms fill up quickly — which is why the best way to save money on holiday travel is by making your plans as soon as possible. No matter when you’re reading this article, the best time to book your holiday travel is now.
As you make your plans, keep in mind that certain types of decisions could save you money when things go wrong. Olson suggests looking for early-morning flights, for example — which could help you avoid delays or cancellations, and prevent you from spending extra cash on unexpected airport meals or a last-minute motel.
He also advises holiday travelers to be flexible about their travel dates.
“In order to get the best deal, adjust your dates a few days here or there,” says Olson. “Flying home the Friday or Saturday after Thanksgiving instead of Sunday can save you hundreds, not to mention the headaches of flying on the busiest travel day of the year.”
Want to know more? Here’s a guide on the best and worst times to fly.
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Don’t wait for prices to go down
According to the Thrifty Traveler, the best time to book flights for Thanksgiving 2023 is between October 2 and October 19 — which means that you may have already missed the biggest money-saving window.
That said, people who are willing to book right away may still be able to find affordable flights.
“The first thing I’d recommend for travelers who missed the ideal Thanksgiving window is to book ASAP,” says Olson. “Prices won’t likely go down.”
The same goes for any December or January travel you might be planning. Make your booking as quickly as you can, and don’t assume that the fares you see today will be available tomorrow.
If you aren’t able to book right away, you may need to prepare to spend a little more on your trip. Olson suggests using credit card rewards like points or miles to cover some of the cost, and families with good credit may want to consider opening a new credit card to take advantage of a sign-up bonus that could help them save money on flights.
“When you’re stuck in a situation like this, it’s time to empty your toolbelt,” Olson told us. “If you have points and miles, consider using them.”
Want to know more? Here’s some expert advice on saving money on winter travel.
Use apps that allow you to book directly with the airline
There are a lot of money-saving apps out there — but if you’re booking flights, Olson recommends using apps that allow you to book directly with the airline.
“Booking directly with the airline, especially around the holidays when flight disruptions are common, is crucial,” Olson says. “If something goes wrong with your flight, you don’t want to work with a middleman to get your refund or changes!”
With that in mind, Olson suggests using Google Flights — which not only allows you to make direct bookings, but also offers price tracking and alerts that can help you book the best fares.
“In our experience, Google Flights price alerts are your best shot at tracking exact fares,” says Olson. “Other sites, like Kayak, can give you some insight into the best time to book, but we always recommend Google Flights because Google Flights allows you to book directly with the airline.”
Want to know more? Here’s a complete guide to using Google Flights to book your airline tickets.
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Be flexible where you can
One of Olson’s favorite pieces of travel advice is to find a low-cost flight and book the rest of your trip around it. This could mean choosing a different travel destination than you were originally planning — taking your family to a ski resort instead of a beach resort, for example, or picking Walt Disney World instead of Disneyland.
That said, many holiday travelers have a single destination in mind — and a limited range of time in which to travel. College students coming home for winter break, for example, may be limited to a specific airport on a specific date. Families taking the kids to visit the grandparents may have to time their trip around school vacations and PTO.
Luckily, Olson has one last piece of money-saving advice.
“For less flexible travelers, my recommendation is to be flexible where you can,” says Olson. “Booking one day earlier or later can make a massive difference in price. If the college kids can spend one more night in the dorm before heading home, the savings could be enormous. Same goes for family travelers heading to Grandma’s. I’m sure Grandma would love to welcome you a day early or have you stick around one day later! Otherwise, activate that travel toolbelt once again: use your points and miles or look into other travel options.”
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Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.
Our editorial policy
Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.
Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.
Haven Life is not authorized to give tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Individuals are encouraged to seed advice from their own tax or legal counsel.
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