Andrea Woroch, Clark.com
When most people think about the upcoming holiday season, they usually focus their budgeting woes on gift shopping. But presents aren’t the only expense consumers should worry about.
Last year, Airlines for America projected that more than 45 million passengers would fly over Christmas and New Years. With the increasing demand for flights during this time of year, anyone who hopes to fly home for the holidays should be ready to shell out big bucks for airfare.
Luckily, you don’t have to blow your budget on travel.
Follow these eight tips to save on your holiday flight
Compare nearby airports
The key to saving on airfare is being flexible about when you travel and where you fly in and out of. Though main hubs servicing major cities and airlines typically offer the best prices, a nearby or smaller airport can sometimes be cheaper. Select the “search nearby airports” option when looking for flights on sites like Travelocity. You will also need to conduct a separate search on Southwest, as their flights are not listed on third-party booking sites.
Book one-way fares
While it’s a little more work, building your own flight itinerary by booking one-way fares on different carriers and in/out of different airports could result in considerable savings. This strategy also enables you to apply reward miles to one leg of the flight if you don’t have enough to cover the cost of a round-trip ticket. Plus, it’s easier and may be cheaper to buy a new one-way ticket if you have to cancel or amend a portion of your trip compared to paying ticket change fees.
Know when to book
The sweet spot for scoring the best deal on domestic flights is approximately six weeks prior to the desired departure date. But when it comes to the holidays, you have to book even earlier to save. According to a study by Hopper, an airfare price tracking site, holiday flights begin to steadily increase in cost as each day passes starting in November. The day of the week may also affect the cost of your ticket as many airlines release fare sales on Tuesday with savings of 15 to 25% off.
Pick travel dates strategically
When it comes to choosing the day and time to travel, think cost and not convenience. Since mid-morning and early evening flights are more preferable, they are usually more expensive. The first flight in the early morning is typically the least expensive, but that means you have to be ready to wake up at 4am or earlier if you want to save money. Lastly, you can usually score a cheaper flight by traveling on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day since demand is down. For instance, Hopper’s Holiday Travel Index found that people flying on Thanksgiving will save $54 per flight on average. While it’s not ideal to travel during these holidays, arranging to celebrate earlier or later in the day allows you to spend quality time with family and friends while saving mucho dinero.
Keep an eye on flight prices
Airfare fluctuates throughout the day, week and based on booking demand so prices will go up and down regularly. Booking today could mean you miss out savings tomorrow, so start watching flight prices and track savings using Pintrips.com, which compares prices on travel with real-time price-tracking and offers an added social element to help you coordinate with your family and friends. Download the Hopper App to receive price drop notifications for your preferred itinerary, but don’t delay booking if a reasonable fare becomes available because chances are it will only get more expensive.
Book through a warehouse store
If you have a membership to a warehouse store like Costco or Sam’s Club, look beyond the bulk containers of ketchup and peanut butter to find savings. Through these retailers’ online travel portals, review booking options to find deep discounts on vacation packages which often include airfare, hotel and a rental car.
Score cheaper parking rates
Parking at the airport seems like no big deal during quick trips, even when rates run from $12 to $30 per day. For long trips, however, this cost can add up quickly and bust your holiday airfare budget. Luckily, there are many affordable parking lots near most major airports that travelers can take advantage of by doing a little research. Many of these cheap parking places offer direct, 24/7 shuttle service to airport terminals with rates are as low as $3.99 per day. Check AirportReservationsParking.com for a list of places to park on the cheap, and search for a coupon code to save on their $5 service fee.
Cut the extras
Beyond the cost of the airline ticket, there are many other expenses that come with traveling by plane that many consumers don’t budget for such as checked bag fees, inflight WiFi access, food and refreshments. When possible, pack light and ship gifts directly to your destination so you don’t have to check bags. For those who plan to connect to WiFi when flying, you’re looking at paying $8 per hour or up to $30 for long flights. Save by checking if the airline’s Internet provider has any promotions or coupon codes online before take off because you won’t be able to access these deals when airborne. Lastly, pack a reusable water bottle, snacks and a sandwich to save on food and drinks. Many airports have water stations so you can quickly fill your bottle before departure or during a layover. Keep in mind, the money saved on airport food can be used toward a more enjoyable meal at your final destination instead.