How to save on holiday travel

Now that Brad and I moved to Colorado, heading home for the holidays is no easy feat. Both our families are from the east coast, and flights home during the holidays are crazy expensive. But this year we spent a whopping $11 on our round-trip flights. And last year’s weren’t much more either.

The beauty of spending as little as possible on holiday travel is that it affords you more funds to spend on gift-giving instead.

Here are some of my go-to strategies for saving big on holiday travel:

1. Book Early

The savviest travelers have already booked December flights in September or earlier. It’s true! I remember an interview I heard on NPR in late August with a money guru who said he had already booked his family’s flights for Christmas!

2. Track Fluctuating Flight Prices

I like setting up alerts on and using GoogleFlights, which in my opinion as a frequent traveler are some of the most user-friend travel booking sites available. Alerts help remind you of your intention to book early, too. It’s one of those things you remember you have to do while you’re in the shower or something, but before you know it’s November and they’re not booked yet. Set alerts not only too see what the pricing trends are, but also just to remind you to tackle this chore!

3. Use Points Wisely

I’ve probably mentioned before what Southwest Airlines loyalist I am, and let me tell you why. Last fall, I was just a few hundreds points shy of earning the coveted Companion Pass, which is essentially a fly-for-free card you can give to any one person for the year, to join you on whatever flights you’re booking at no extra cost.

In talking with an agent on the phone, we realized that if I just booked one pricier business class ticket for the final business-related flight I had on my calendar, I would hit the threshold and could start using that Companion Pass right away. As a result, I had enough points saved up to book my holiday flights home with almost no real cash, and secured Brad a seat on the same flight for free using our newly-earned companion pass, too.

One of our New Year’s Resolution for 2018 was to put that Companion Pass to good use, and we definitely did. With points, vouchers, and the Companion Pass this year, we booked flights that would have cost us over $2,000 in cash, only having to spend a few dollars on processing fees.

As a frequent business traveler, it’s easier for me to stack up points than the average person, for sure. But another way I work the Rapid Rewards points game is by using the Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card by Chase. And no, this is not sponsored, I’m just a huge fan. I mean, for full disclosure, some of my retirement fund is invested in Southwest stocks (LUV), that’s how much I adore this company.

Whatever airline you double-down on, commit to it and commit to figuring out how to maximize your points and rewards – and save them for the most expensive travel time of the year.

4. Fly On the Holiday

Another way to save serious coin? Fly on the holiday itself. Truly. The airport is EMPTY on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas, too. Flights tend to be way cheaper and you’ll still make it in time for holiday celebrations. Don’t let your family pressure you into flying in the night before if it means you’ll miss out on thousands of dollars of savings.

5. Be Smart About Suitcases

The way that airlines are really making money these days is by charging you for every single add-on they can. Don’t fall victim to the over-packer’s tax. Try your best to pack everything you need into carry-on size baggage only. Most airlines give you a carry-on and personal piece of luggage (which could be a fairly large backpack or purse) at no cost. Maximize that! Wear your bulkiest coat on the plane if it means saving on luggage space. And keep in mind, even if you end up having to check your luggage at the gate, as long as it’s small enough to get through the security line, they’ll check your bag there for free.

Ship your gifts to your destination ahead of time and save the hassle of wrapping everything for when you get there. Sometimes TSA has to unwrap your stuff if you try to take it through the security line anyway, so save yourself the trouble and Amazon Prime that ish to your relatives’ homes or wherever you’re heading to.

If there’s no other way to make it work and you absolutely must check luggage, try to pay for that at the time of purchasing your tickets or in the days leading up to travel. Some airlines will offer a discounted rate when you sign up to check your bag online than if you wait to decide upon arrival at the airport.

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