Heading ho-ho-home for the holiday season can also mean going bro-bro-broke thanks to high travel costs. Even as prices on airfare, hotels and rental cars steadily increase, there are still deals says Jean Chatzky, author of eight finance books including “Money Rules: The Simple Path to Lifelong Security” and host of the personal finance show, “Money Matters with Jean Chatzky,” on RLTV. Here’s how to save on holiday travel.
Think Outside the Hotel
Hotels are great, but alternatives like house swaps and home rentals can be significantly cheaper. While house swaps are oftentimes free, provided that you let another family stay in your place, home rentals through sites like Airbnb.com oftentimes cost 30 to 50 percent less than area hotels.
“You have to understand what you’re getting,” says Chatzky. “You have to understand how these options are different than your typical hotel…”
While hotels usually include services like concierge and housekeeping, home swap and rental arrangements require travelers to fend for themselves. The quality level can also vary dramatically from home to home.
For travelers who are willing to work a little for their stay, house and pet sitting can also be cheaper hotel alternatives.
Use Miles…But Not for Airfare
It’s too late to nab an early bird airfare deal says Chatzky, “because, at this point, you’re probably going to have to use double the miles in order to book…” but you can apply those miles to hotel stays, rental car fees and other trip costs.
Many major airlines including American and United also allow frequent flyers to apply miles to travel upgrades, vacation packages and holiday shopping while certain rewards credit cards provide points and cash back that can defray travel expenses. If you don’t have enough miles, Points.com allows users to swap miles and points between rewards programs for a fee.
Having flexibility on your travel dates and housing options is crucial to finding a great deal, but so is thinking beyond the biggies.
“Looking at some of the smaller airports that are out of the way by just a little bit can save you a huge amount of money,” says Chatzky, adding that the same goes for housing and rental cars.
The reverse can also be true. According to Kayak.com, for example, passengers heading from San Francisco to New York towards the end of December can save nearly $300 by flying into White Plains, New York an hour away instead.
When making plans, Chatzky urges consumers to research their destinations of choice as well as other airports within a short drive.
Price aggregator sites like Expedia and Orbitz are great for research, but there are also deals offline. Once travelers have found a sweet price through an aggregator site, “…I wouldn’t book it without first picking up the phone and calling that hotel,” Chatzky says. “Not the 800 number, but that specific hotel and asking what they can do for you.”
If you can’t land a lower price, you may be able to get perks.
“…once I know that I’m not going to get a lower price, I’ll ask to be upgraded to the concierge floor,” she says. “Once you’re on the concierge floor, there’s typically snacks throughout the day including breakfast, so you save yourself money in other ways.”
Check Back After Booking
Even after you’ve made travel arrangements, you still may be eligible for a deal. If you book a hotel or rental car, then find out that they’ve lowered the price, many companies will offer you the difference if you ask for it says Chatzky.
“Hotels and rental cars, you can always cancel, at least most cases you can cancel,” she says, “and if you can cancel then you can get yourself the better rate.”
Saving money this holiday season, she adds, boils down to staying flexible and continually keeping an eye out for opportunities to save.
“…the one thing consumers haven’t grasped is the degree to which prices fluctuate,” she says. “…If you haven’t found a deal that works for you, it never hurts to check back.”
(Photo: ontourwithben )