Coming into Reagan Airport in Washington DC, down the Potomac River

5 Tips for Holiday Travel Without Breaking the Bank

While many of us are still reveling in the memories of our summer vacations, the sad fact is that it’s already time to start thinking about the holidays — especially if you’re planning to travel. Thanksgiving and Christmas time are among the most expensive travel windows of the year, and this year’s airfare prices are expected to increase as much as 5% over last year’s.

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Coming into Reagan Airport in Washington DC, down the Potomac River
Above Reagan Airport, Washington DC © Kevin Dooley

With a bit of preparation though, you can still book and travel affordably. Here are five tips on how you can save money on your upcoming holiday travel:

#1: Book Early (But Not Too Early)

There is such a thing as booking too early. Airfare prices fluctuate over time. They start out expensive, dip down to the cheapest fare (usually 45 days before the travel date), then gradually get more expensive again. So booking about six weeks out is the prime time for holiday flights.

#2: Travel on Off-peak Days

Did you know that off-peak days are a bit different during the holidays? Fridays and Sundays are traditionally the most expensive days to fly, whereas Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the most affordable days to fly. But for Thanksgiving travel, things shift since the holiday is on Thursday. Most people fly out the day before the holiday, making the cheaper Wednesday flights more expensive. So flying out Tuesday will yield the best prices. And where Friday is normally more expensive, after Thanksgiving it will often be more affordable since most people try to return on Saturday or Sunday.

#3: Pack Light

We’d all love to travel with just a carry-on. But for some, it’s just not an option. If you can though, you’ll avoid hefty baggage fees. The two biggest culprits preventing people from packing light tend to be (1) heavy winter jackets and (2) gifts. Consider wearing your heavy outerwear on the plane to save room. And if you shop online and have the gifts sent directly to your destination, you won’t need to pack them.

#4: Book Flights at Undesirable Times

We know you don’t like waking up early to catch the first flight out in the morning. But guess what? Nobody else does, either. So those less desirable early flights are often cheaper than those in the afternoon or evening.

#5: Be Flexible

Many people know that if you’re willing to be flexible with your dates, then you can often find better deals. But did you know that there are even better deals to be had if you’re flexible with your destination? There are new travel sites that enable you to search by country or even experience so you can consider multiple destination options that match your criteria, which can help you find more affordable destinations that you may not have thought of.

There are even sites like that take flexibility a step further and offer significant discounts if you’re willing to pick two destinations and let the site decide which one to book for you. Having trouble deciding which of the in-laws to visit for the holidays? Pick flights to both and let a site decide for you!

Remember — holiday travel is generally more expensive due to higher demand. But if you start planning now, ahead of the average traveler who books less than 20 days out, you can save a substantial amount of money.

  1. Very good post full of practical pointers. I’m going to keep this in mind for my upcoming backpacking trip in the Eurasia region. One more thing: do you have detailed money-saving tips regarding accommodations? Thanks!

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