How to Save Money on Holiday Travel

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With a strong economy and low airfares, it is expected that there will be an increase in Thanksgiving travel.  In fact, this Thanksgiving is expected to be the busiest since 2005!  And you just know that Christmas will be more of the same.  We love to travel, but traveling during the holidays can be really expensive, so here are some of our best tips for how to save money on holiday travel.

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Super simple tips on how to save money on holiday travel

Below are some super simple tips that we use when traveling.  These tips work year ’round, but are especially important during the holiday travel season because prices tend to increase due to greater demand.  Let’s get on with the show so you can get back to spending time with your family… how to save money on holiday travel.

How to Save Money on Holiday Travel. airport-2373727_1920

Consider flying to/from an alternate airport

Not all airports are considered equal.  This is especially true when comparing ticket prices.  And the savings are multiplied when you have multiple people flying with you.

We live in Southern California, so we have many airports to choose from – LAX, Burbank, Ontario, Orange County, Long Beach, and even San Diego.  Sometimes, it is worth a little extra drive to save a bunch of money.

For example, my buddy Travis was flying to Hawaii earlier this year.  The prices from LAX were really high, so I recommended that he check out the prices from San Diego.  At first, he balked because it is a 90-minute drive to San Diego… then I reminded him the LAX is also about an hour and traffic is crazy at LAX, so it could easily take 90 minutes to get to LAX as well.

When he checked the prices out of SAN, he was amazed.  The prices per person were $250 lower out of San Diego!!!  So, his family of four saved $1,000 by driving a little further to San Diego vs. LAX.  And the San Diego airport is much smaller and friendlier than LAX, so that was an added bonus.

How to Save Money on Holiday Travel. parking-825371_1920

Save money parking at the airport

Before you even make it to the airport, you’re already looking at racking up the expenses.  Depending on the airport, rates can range from $9 a day to $30 a day (or even higher).

Some of my friends get dropped off at the airport by friends or family, but that’s not my style.  This is especially true if you have a really early/late departure or arrival.  I prefer to call in favors for bigger needs.  Plus, I’m an adult and should be able to handle my own travel needs.

One of the best ways to save money on holiday is to avoid paying for parking.  If you live close enough to the airport, take Uber or Lyft to the airport instead.  Open the app and receive an estimate (remember to double it so you can get home!) and compare that to the cost of parking.  I find that this works best for longer trips.

Sign up for airport parking membership programs for discounts and points towards free parking.  I’ve also found great deals on parking at Groupon and LivingSocial, like this one (use code “PREVIEW” to save even more).  Or check out Parking Panda and get $5 off your first reservation with my link.  This app helps you find great deals from all of the parking near your favorite airport.

How to Save Money on Holiday Travel. baggage-claim-luggage-band-64390_1920
That sinking feeling when you realize you made it, but your bag didn’t!

Save money on checked bag fees

Checking bags is a huge profit source for the airlines.  Which is why I almost never check bags.  But, when I do, I want to save money on checked bag fees.

The first option to save money on holiday travel is to buy a ticket that doesn’t charge checked bag fees.  This is yet another reason why Southwest is my favorite airline!  And many airlines don’t charge baggage fees when redeeming miles and points for a ticket, especially if you’re in Business or First Class.

Another option is to consolidate multiple suitcases into one.  Anna and I each have a small carry-on suitcase, but it can make sense to have one larger suitcase because airlines will charge you the same whether your suitcase is large or small (as long as you adhere to the weight limits).  If everything doesn’t fit, consider where or not you really need to bring all of that stuff?

For when we need to check bags, we use the airline’s co-branded credit card.  Most cards today offer the benefit of waived checked bags when you use the card to buy your ticket.

How to Save Money on Holiday Travel. Hertz Dream Cars Tesla Model S
Not all rental cars are created equal.

Save money on car rentals

When we travel, we do our best to avoid renting a car.  To us, we feel more like a local when we’re walking the city, using public transit, or hopping into an Uber.  It is better for the environment, provides a better opportunity to explore, and helps us save money on holiday travel.

If you must rent a car while traveling, check out sites like Costco Travel or Auto Slash for the best rates.  When you make your reservation or when you check-in at the car rental agency, be sure to link your favorite airline’s rewards program to earn extra miles.

When we need a car seat, we use the AAA code at Hertz to get a free car seat.  This keeps up from having to lug it around and makes getting in and out so much quicker and easier.

My favorite option when renting cars is a company called Silvercar.  They only rent Audis, which helps with the cool factor.  And, their rates can be pretty competitive, especially when you stack coupons (current promo is “SILVERSALE” which saves 40%) and use my referral link and code “LHUFFMAN” for an additional $25 discount.

How to Save Money on Holiday Travel. dining friends-581753_1920

Save money on food while traveling

Even when you save money on holiday travel using miles & points and the tips above, food can be a huge expense while traveling.  It is hard to save money on food while traveling because most hotels and resorts don’t have a full kitchen like we’re used to at home.

We often book rooms at hotels like Marriott’s Residence Inn or through timeshares so that we have at least a partial kitchen or a BBQ available.  As an added bonus, certain hotels offer free breakfast for all guests… and even more offer free breakfast if you hold a higher level hotel loyalty status.

Most often, we are out sightseeing all day, so you’re going to need to pay for some meals along the way.  I use apps like Dosh to earn cash back when dining at participating restaurants.  It’s been my experience that I receive 7-10% cash back when eating at a restaurant that offers Dosh.  Use my referral link to earn $5 for signing up and making your first purchase.

Another way to save money on food while traveling is to buy certificates from Restaurant.com, Groupon or LivingSocial ahead of time.  Just pick the city you’ll be traveling to, then search for dining options that suit your budget or appetite.  This is also a way to find some great hole-in-wall restaurants that you may have otherwise passed on by.  Take note that many certificates are not valid the day of purchase, so you should to buy at least one day in advance.

How to Save Money on Holiday Travel. tokyo-disney-mickey-mouse-832112_1920
You’re encouraged to visit each Disney park because they’re all a little unique.

Save money on entertainment while traveling

Leading up to your vacation, reach out to the local visitor’s center to see what coupons and promotions they have available.  They are often working with local businesses that offer some great discounts that will help you save on holiday travel.

I like to look at Groupon and LivingSocial for deals on local activities.  Other specialized sites like Goldstar offer tremendous discounts… and some activities are even free (plus a small fee).

If your employer offers it (or get your employer to sign up for free), check out Working Advantage.  I saved A TON of money on our Disney World and Universal Studios tickets when we went to Orlando a couple of years ago.  They have all sorts of activites available, including lift tickets, amusement parks, professional sports, and so many others.

It may not make sense for a short trip, but for longer trips, also consider buying an Entertainment book.  If you buy on Black Friday, they’re 40% off when using my link and the promo code “WOW40“.  These books are specific to certain cities/regions and have tons of coupons for local businesses.

How to Save Money on Holiday Travel. Kimpton Shorebreak exterior view
Kimpton Shorebreak Hotel in Huntington Beach, CA

Save money on hotel reservations

My number one way to save money on holiday travel is to use hotel points to book my reservation.  But that’s not always an option.  Your preferred hotel may be booked, you may not have enough points, or the number of points they’re asking for isn’t a good value vs. paying cash.

Here are the ways I save money on hotel reservations when I’m using my hard-earned cash.  First off, join all of the hotel loyalty programs.  They send out promo codes and offers to their loyalty members all of the time.  Use these codes for big time savings.

Use apps like Hotel Tonight or Dosh to book score last minute deals on hotels.  Hotels can only sell a hotel room once… and once that date passes, they can never sell it again.  So, they would rather sell you the room at a discount using a service like Hotel Tonight or Dosh to earn something rather than nothing.

Consider booking a timeshare week instead.  What, you don’t own a timeshare?  No big deal!  You can actually rent out unused inventory from timeshare companies using sites like Endless Vacation Rentals.  Best of all, when you buy from EVR, you don’t have to do a timeshare presentation!

If you’re cool with doing a timeshare presentation, you can score major deals for some pretty great resorts.  Hilton Grand Vacations Club has been one one of my favorite promos to take advantage of when traveling to Las Vegas or Orlando.  Click here to check out all of our timeshare deals.

How to Save Money on Holiday Travel
How Global Entry members clear customs. Thanks for Easysentri for the image. No modifications were made.

Time is money

We all want to save money, but don’t forget that time is money.  If you’re wondering how to save money on holiday travel and you value your time, consider signing up for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck to avoid security lines.  And I recently signed up for CLEAR which makes life even easier!

Which should you get – Global Entry, TSA PreCheck, or CLEAR?  Global Entry comes with TSA PreCheck, so that’s a no-brainer.  But I think you should also get CLEAR because the PreCheck lines can get pretty long now that more people know about it.  Use my link to get a free 2-month trial of CLEAR.  Sign up through my link and you can even complete your registration at the airport to skip the lines!!!

All of these can save you a bunch of time getting through airport security and reduce your stress considerably.

The Bald Thoughts

I hope that you found these ideas useful.  We all want to know how to save money on holiday travel and I’ve shared many of the tools and tricks I use to save money when I travel alone or with my family.  We want to wish you safe travel and many happy memories of Thanksgiving, Christmas, or whatever holiday it is that you celebrate.

Please share your favorite ways how to save money on holiday travel in the comment section below.

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