If going home for the holidays — or escaping from home — is a part of your December plan, you may think it’s too late to score a deal. After all, aren’t we always told to book in advance for the best prices? While it can be easier to find deals if you have more time, there are plenty of ways to save money on last-minute holiday travel.
1. Cash in Frequent-Flier Miles
Hopefully you have a credit card or belong to a loyalty program that lets you rack up rewards to be used on travel. Put those frequent-flier miles to use when it comes time to buy your airfare.
Another option may be to use the miles to upgrade your travel accommodations from economy to first class. Treat yourself and travel in style. You’ll still be paying full price for the economy ticket, but it may make for a more enjoyable holiday. Plus, some airlines check luggage for free for first-class fliers.
If you don’t have any frequent-flier miles, play the credit card rewards game and get ready for next year.
2. Sign Up for Fare Alerts
Rather than checking the travel sites compulsively, let them email you when fares drop. You can sign up for fare alerts on a variety of sites, including these:
3. Travel on Christmas Day
Is it ideal? Probably not. Is it cheaper? Probably is. If you didn’t book early enough, you can try finding a flight on Christmas Day when fewer people are traveling. Fewer people on the planes may mean more money in your pocket as a result of lower fares.
4. Fly Out of an Alternate Airport
Flights out of major hubs will almost always command higher prices than those out of regional airports. See if you can save by driving to the smaller airport an hour away.
5. Be Willing to Be Bumped
Build enough flexibility into your schedule that you can accept an offer to be bumped from a flight. Doing so might not save you any money on your current trip, but you could walk away with a voucher worth hundreds off your next flight.
6. Check With a Travel Agent
With so many DIY options available, a travel agent might seem like a waste of money. However, an experienced agent may be able to steer you around any potential travel money pits. Even if they don’t save you dollars, a travel agent could save you time and, as we all know, time is money.
7. Consider Buses and Trains
Trains may not be the cheapest form of transportation, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother checking to see what’s available.
Another often overlooked form of travel is a bus. Today’s discount lines offer affordable rates and even perks such as Wi-Fi and reserved seating. Here are a couple of notable bus services that have emerged in recent years:
8. Ask for a Discount at the Hotel
When you’re at home making your travel plans, call the hotel front desk (not the toll-free number) and ask for the cheapest nonrefundable room they have available. Then, upon check-in, ask if any discounted rooms are available that day.
No? See if the hotel is offering any complimentary upgrades for holiday travelers. The answer to that might be no, too, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to ask. Just remember to smile and be kind rather than demanding or whiny.
9. Rent a Car Away From the Airport
Rental car desks based at the airport typically charge a premium. Look for an off-site provider in advance of your trip. Some companies will be happy to deliver the car to the airport for you. Then you get the convenience of an airport rental without the cost.
10. Get a Rental to Replace Your Gas Guzzler
If you normally drive a big SUV or truck, crunch the numbers before taking it on a long road trip. It might be cheaper to rent a fuel-efficient car rather than fill up your gas hog.
11. Pull Out Your Coupon Book
Speaking of rental cars, most Entertainment Books and similar discount publications include coupons for rental cars. In some cases, you may save money. Other times, you may get a free upgrade.
12. Check for Membership Benefits
Finally, if you belong to an organization such as AARP or AAA, you may be eligible for members-only pricing on travel and accommodations. Warehouse clubs such as Costco also offer exclusive travel perks to members.