50 Money-Saving Tips for Holiday Travel

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GET THERE, STAY THERE, AND SAVE

Traveling here, there, and yon over the holidays need not leave you insolvent. There are workarounds galore that savvy travelers can use to find huge savings on airfare, hotels, and local transportation. These are some of Cheapism.com's best tips for landing a holiday travel deal, whether you're visiting family or taking a vacation.

AIRLINE WEBSITES

Check the airline's official website before purchasing a ticket. Sometimes deals from the primary source are the cheapest of all and include additional benefits, such as lower fees.

TICKET HOLDS

U.S. airlines are required to let travelers hold domestic tickets for up to 24 hours at a locked-in price while they decide whether to go for it. Cancel while that window is open and receive a refund.

SIGN-UP BONUSES

Some credit cards offer large sign-up bonuses to new cardholders who spend a certain amount of money within the first few months. The expenses associated with the holidays make the early fall a good time to take one of these offers.

OUTLYING HOTELS

To save on lodging, head for the periphery. Hotels are cheaper farther away from the city center or major attraction. One exception: With business travel at a lull during the holidays, rates may be low in a city's financial district.

ADVANCE RESERVATIONS

Book hotels in advance, before they begin to approach full occupancy and rates start climbing. Often there's no downside, because reservations can be canceled within a day of the stay without penalty. Meanwhile, keep searching for better deals.

NO-ATM-FEE ACCOUNTS

It can be hard to find an ATM affiliated with your home bank when outside the United States. Work around the extra charge by opening an account with a financial services firm, such as Charles Schwab, or a credit union that refunds ATM fees.

YAPTA ALERTS

Turn to Yapta, a site that tracks the cost of flights, hotels, and cars, and sends alerts when prices fall. Depending on the size of the price drop, you may be eligible for a refund on some major airlines.

BUS RIDES

Buses aren't the quickest way to travel, but they can be an inexpensive option. Some are fairly comfortable and offer Wi-Fi, power ports, and snacks.

HOUSESITTING

Housesitting is a route to nearly free lodging. The websites HouseCarers, Mind My House, and Nomador provide listings in multiple countries by people looking for someone to stay in and care for their homes, with no money changing hands. Permanent occupants can join these services for free, but potential house sitters may pay up to $89 a year.

AIRLINE REWARDS PROGRAMS

Frequent flyers should take advantage of the rewards programs associated with their favorite airlines. Points build over time and can be used to upgrade a seat or cover the cost of a ticket.

GROUP-BUYING DISCOUNTS

Be aggressive about leveraging discounts available through organizations with group-buying deals. AAA almost always offers special hotel discounts, as does AARP. Active-duty military personnel often qualify for discounts.

CAR PROFITS

Turn your idle vehicle into a source of profit by renting it out while you're away. Relay Rides can make this happen. (Liability coverage is provided by the company.)

HOLIDAY AIRFARES

For Thanksgiving travel, make sure to book flights more than 10 days in advance. If past history is any guide, prices should remain relatively stable until then. CheapAir reports that the day before Thanksgiving and the Saturday after are the most costly days to fly.

ONLINE BOOKING

Try to avoid booking flights over the phone, because airlines often charge for the assistance. Instead, speak to a representative (if needed) to figure out travel plans, then book online.

GROUP TRAVEL

If possible, travel in groups. The cost of a hotel room split among four friends is way cheaper than a hotel room for just one or two.

RESEARCH TOOLS

Be wary of relying on aggregators, such as Expedia. These sites often put forward inflexible deals and their role as middlemen may mean higher prices. Use them as research tools instead.

DEAL ALERTS

Travelers with little preference for destination can sign up for alerts from websites such as Travelzoo and Airfare Watchdog. Subscribers often see deals for cheap flights or vacation packages.

HOMEY LODGING

Book a room through Airbnb instead of staying at a hotel. With lodging offered by local residents in 190 countries, this is an opportunity to stay someplace homey while saving money (many options are cheaper than hotels).

NO FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEE

Paying for goods and services with a credit card while traveling abroad may incur a foreign transaction fee equal to several percent of the purchase price. Avoid the extra expense by signing up for one of the credit cards without this fee well before departure day.

HOTEL LOYALTY PROGRAMS

Even infrequent travelers should join a hotel loyalty program. Perks include some combination of vouchers, free stays, free in-room Wi-Fi, and more.

MINI DRINKS

Ease some of the holiday travel stress by packing mini bottles of liquor to sip in-flight. They're small enough to pass TSA screening and much cheaper than beverages sold on board.

LAST-MINUTE TICKETS

It's risky, but consider waiting until the day before traveling to buy a plane ticket -- unless it's the day before the holiday itself. Airlines sometimes sell empty seats for extremely low prices to avoid a total loss on those spots.

HOTEL BOOKING

Call hotels directly after doing online research. Hotels often try to beat, or at least match, the quoted online price. Some chains, such as Hilton, offer incentives for booking directly on their site (free Wi-Fi in this case).

PRICE-DROP RETURNS

Look into the price-drop payback offer from the website CheapAir, which refunds up to $100 for any post-purchase change in airfare for an identical itinerary.

EXTENDED STAY DISCOUNTS

Hotel chains sometimes offer a free night to travelers staying four or five nights in a row. This can come in handy during an extended stay when visiting family during the holidays.

OFF-PEAK TRAVEL

If possible, schedule travel during non-peak times -- such as the day of the holiday -- when airfare is cheaper. Leaving a day before everyone else or staying a day later can make a big difference.

OFF-SITE PARKING

Some hotels charge for parking regardless whether valet service is offered. Save by parking on the street or at nearby public lots, which often are cheaper.

HOSTELS

When traveling outside the United States, consider staying in hostels. Sacrifice some privacy in exchange for multi-person bunk rooms with unrivaled rates. Slightly pricier, but still cheap, private rooms often are available. Hostels also are a surefire way to meet fellow travelers.

CAR RENTAL REWARDS

Just like airlines and hotels, many car rental companies maintain a rewards program. Even brand-new members may receive perks, such as a waived fee for a second driver.

CREDIT CARD POINTS

Take note of travel-related miles or points earned through a credit card. These add up and can help underwrite the cost of a vacation.

NAME-YOUR-PRICE SITES

Before booking a hotel room through a name-your-price website such as Priceline, turn to BetterBidding for a list of tricks that can yield welcome savings.

ONE-WAY FLIGHTS

Two one-way flights on different airlines may cost less than a round trip on the same airline, or provide the option of traveling at a more convenient time for the same price.

AIRLINE CREDIT CARDS

Credit cards associated with airlines typically offer cardholders a free checked bag, priority boarding, and discounted in-flight meal purchases. The checked bag can be particularly useful during the holidays when transporting gifts.

WELCOMING HOSTS

U.S. Servas, a web-based project of the International Peace Association, matches travelers to hosts in more than 100 countries for free.

INDUSTRY DISCOUNTS

Friends or family members who work in the hospitality industry may be able to arrange special deep discounts. Don't be shy -- suggest it as this year's holiday gift.

FOREIGN BOOKING SITES

After narrowing down flight options for international travel, look at the foreign version of the airline's site (such as britishairways.co.uk instead of britishairways.com). The price may be cheaper when booked in an alternate currency and paid for with a credit card that doesn't charge a foreign transaction fee.

CAR SHARING

Turn to car-share programs if you need a car at your destination. Relay Rides connects car owners with people seeking short-term rentals, often at prices cheaper than traditional car rental companies.

BUDGET AIRLINES

Check into the budget airlines, a few of which don't show up on aggregator sites. Low-cost carriers forgo some of the amenities that legacy carriers provide, but the tickets are often significantly cheaper. Note any extra fees (e.g., for choosing a seat), though, as they mount quickly.

HOME SWITCHING

Adventurous travelers might try Home Exchange, a site that lists 55,000 homes in 150 countries. Members list their home for use by another traveler and then search for one in the desired destination. If there's a match (each party wants to visit the other's location at the same time), the swap is free for the length of the stay.

CREDIT CARD INSURANCE

When renting a car, pay with a credit card that provides secondary insurance (i.e., the renter's regular auto insurance is first payer) for any damage to the vehicle.

ALTERNATE AIRPORTS

Check fares from multiple airports in the region and consider flying via alternate routes. Prices may differ by airport, and airlines that have recently opened up new routes will be eager to attract travelers through lower fares.

TRAVEL DEALS

Stay abreast of travel deals by following airlines and hotels on travel media. Sometimes newsletter subscribers are offered exclusive discounts.

CORPORATE BOOKING SITES

For chain hotels, refer to the corporate websites when making reservations. There may be online-only discounts that are unknown to on-site employees and online aggregators.

LODGING APP

For extreme last-minute travel plans, use the app Hotel Tonight to find lodging at a discounted price.

FLEXIBLE TRAVEL DATES

When booking a flight, search multiple dates. Tools such as Kayak feature a "flexible" function that compares all prices for an itinerary within three days on both sides of the selected travel dates.

BUDGET HOTEL CHAINS

Looking for cheap lodging but not concerned about amenities? Book at one of the better budget hotel chains. This may be a good option during the holidays when much of the day is spent elsewhere.

WORK EXCHANGE

If budget hostels are too expensive, offer to work in exchange for a room. Hostels short on staff (perhaps employees went home for the holidays) may readily agree.

HOME PROFITS

Earn money while on vacation and offset some travel costs by listing your home on Airbnb or VRBO. Check local ordinances to be sure this is legal in your city.

COSTCO ADVANTAGE

A $55 annual membership at Costco can save the fee for a second driver when rental car reservations are made through the warehouse club's travel service.

FREE LODGING

For the ultimate in cheap lodging, try Couchsurfing and join a community that spans the globe. Couch surfers search the site for an open couch or spare room wherever they might be passing through. The service is completely free, but it can be hard to break in, as hosts rely heavily on references -- no surprise given the security issues involved.