7 Insider Tips to Score The Best Holiday Travel Deals

Christmas Airport Graphic

This year, the holiday season will once again be a busy time of travel. You or people you know will travel far and wide, from near and far, to reconnect with friends, family, and loved ones; what a joyous time of year!

But do you know what can really ruin it all? When those flights to get to grandma’s house are $500 more expensive this year or the hotel near your December beach getaway increased their nightly rates 50% from last year: holiday travel prices can be a drag (and a drain on your finances).

So whether you’re traveling within the United States or abroad, it’s best to be prepared to shell out a few more bucks this year. But luckily, we’re here to share some insider tips and holiday travel hacks on how to make sure you’re scoring the best holiday travel deal, saving money, and yes, that you’re paying the absolute lowest price possible.

1. Don’t Wait Any Longer

Google Flight Alerts

News flash: COVID era cheap flights like a $30 round trip ticket from New York to Miami are, sadly, not so commonplace anymore. So the best time to book your flight was, well…it should have been booked already! According to Travel +Leisure, the best time to book a vacation is 64 days prior to departure and for a winter trip: 94 days prior. The cheapest day to book a flight is 68 days before departure, generally speaking. These holiday travel stats don’t lie!

But if you’re persistent enough, you should be able to find a discounted deal on travel by utilizing tools like Google Flights’ price indicator graph (depicted above), which tells you if the price for your current search is low, typical, or high. You can even set alerts for specific dates and flights to be notified immediately when the price goes up or down. One other great travel resource is Hopper: this travel site uses innovative technology allowing you to explore “secret” hotel rates up to 40% off. That’s a heck of a lot of savings!

If you’re patient enough, airlines and hotel chains alike will surely be offering some form of Black Friday deals which might save you big, if you can wait to lock down those December travel arrangements.

2. Make Price Comparisons

Woman on laptop

There are thousands of hotel resorts and hotel brands out there. Moreover, there are always a number of flights departing from your origin to your destination. We suggest using a travel search tool like Momondo to compare hotels, flights, and rental cars side by side from many different travel sites, all in one place. The site even allows you to get as specific as aircraft type and flight quality!

3. Search Surrounding Airports for Lower Fares

Airport waiting room

Many major cities like New York and Los Angeles have multiple airports within the region. For example, New York City has John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), LaGuardia Airport (LGA), Newark Airport (EWR), and Westchester County Airport (HPN). Meanwhile, Los Angeles is home to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR), John Wayne Airport (SNA), and Long Beach Airport (LGB). But, instead of just defaulting to JFK or LAX, we recommend using city codes instead of airport codes when searching for flights. What does this mean? Well, if you search with code “NYC” or “LOS,” flight results for your selected dates and times will populate at all of the area’s airports. This way you might be able to find a cheaper flight from a smaller airport nearby and you’ll still be able to get to Mom’s holiday get-together for less!

4. Get a Bundled Travel Deal

Bundled Travel Deals

Another tip of the travel trade is to search for bundled travel deals. Instead of finding a flight deal, a steal on a nice hotel, and the cheapest location to rent a car separately, use tools like Travelocity Vacation Packages or Costco Travel to quickly and easily find a package price on combinations like hotel + rental car + flight. Using tools like this can save you time AND money: two things we all need a little more of during the holiday season! Check out the buzz on Reddit on the best sites to get a great travel deal for trips:

What Reddit users are saying:

  • Check Skyscanner
  • Explore Tripmaster
  • Compare travel bundles against booking each piece of the trip separately to make sure the bundle is still cheaper.

5. Browse Without Cookies

Browse without cookies

We know this is rotten and I’m sure you’ve all heard of this before: many airlines and hotel websites will use cookies to track your search history for a particular flight or hotel. This means that if you search it enough times, the price just might go up, leading you to feel pressured to book so that it doesn’t get even more expensive.

According to Yahoo, you should clear your browser before booking a flight to get a better deal. Or, you can open an incognito browser window and try your search again, especially if you saw a good travel deal that increased in price. Rest assured, this smart tactic can (sometimes) take the headache out of surprise price increases.

6. Save on Baggage Fees with Co-Branded Credit Cards

Credit Cards

These days, airlines are finding every way possible to charge for odds and ends in addition to the cost of your flight. One of those extra fees is for checked baggage. Forbes says that the average cost of a checked bag is $30 per person per flight.

So picture this: you’re a family of 4 and you have one checked luggage each on a round trip journey. That means you’ll be spending $240 round trip… just on bags!

One workaround to this is to sign up for an airline co-branded credit card. (It’s important to keep track of how many credit cards you currently have open and that you are spending responsibly.)

Check out two of our favorite picks:

  • The Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card allows for the first checked bag free on all Delta flights for cardholders and up to eight companions on the same itinerary. (That could mean up to a whopping $570 savings if you have 9 people including yourself on a round trip itinerary!).
  • The JetBlue Plus Card allows for the first checked bag free for cardholders and up to three companions on the same reservation. (Note: You must cover the cost of your airfare with your credit card to qualify for this perk.)

7. Fly on the Day of the Holiday

Christmas day flight

If you’re looking to both save yourself money AND stress, we recommend flying on the actual holiday itself instead of 1-2 days before. According to Insider, you can find the best deals and the least-crowded flights when you fly on the Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday. So you might be fashionably late to your parent’s house but you’ll arrive with a smile on your face because there’s more money in your checking account this holiday.

Also Read: 5 Holiday Travel Tips for 2021