While Halloween notoriously fuels our fear of ghouls and goblins, it’s the holiday season—and the hectic travel season that accompanies it—that gives budget-conscious travelers a real fright. Inclement weather delays; overbooked flights; proclamations of “This is the busiest travel day EVER!” That’s our Nightmare on Elm Street. Thankfully, just in time for Halloween, we came up with seven tips and tricks to make holiday travel less scary (monetarily, at least).
KNOW WHEN TO BUY…
With domestic flight capacity for the holiday season up in the air, so to speak, it’s best to book your flights early. Thanksgiving flight prices peak mid-October and then dip down again towards Halloween and beginning of November, then rising sharply in the two weeks prior to the holiday. Similarly, Christmastime booking prices see a drop in the two-week window before the holiday, then increasing sharply the week of the holiday.
…AND WHEN TO FLY
Avoid crowds and save $176 by departing on Thanksgiving day and returning on Friday. Departing on Thanksgiving day saves 12 percent when compared to Wednesday, the most-booked departure date. But no matter when you depart, returning on Sunday has the biggest impact on flight price—increasing median flight booking prices 32 percent.
The number of possible departure and arrival dates increases with Christmas falling on a Wednesday this year, but similar to Thanksgiving, the least expensive flight itinerary includes departing on Christmas Day and returning the day after. It’s also the least trafficked of Christmastime flights, with less than 1 percent of the booking share. So while it may not be the most convenient of possible itineraries, it does save about $300 (enough to buy yourself a New Year’s flight) when compared to the most expensive itinerary, leaving the Saturday before and returning the Sunday after.
SET A FARE ALERT
If you haven’t learned this trick yet, it’s time to try it out—especially if you’re flying into a smaller airport where prices fluctuate more frequently. Hipmunk data show that Thanksgiving flyers that set a fare alert save an average of 13 percent ($96) on the median booking price for comparable routes and Christimastime travelers save an average of 17 percent ($121).
CONSIDER BASIC ECONOMY
No-frills flights and basic economy fares, offered by low-cost carriers and the majority of legacy carriers, are yet another cost-saving option for budget-conscious travelers. Basic economy typically limits upgrades, carry-ons, and seating selection, but can be a great option if you are heading to your holidays solo and you pack light. Basic economy will save you 23 percent ($218) on Thanksgiving flights this year, and 25 percent ($246) on flights for the Christmas holiday.
Hipmunk’s flight search design allows travelers to visually compare prices and in-flight amenities, like Wi-Fi and luggage fees, by fare class so you can easily find your “Right Flight”. You didn’t want to try and jam all your presents into the overhead bin anyway, right?
FLY INTO AN ALTERNATE AIRPORT
If your travel plans are taking you to a large metro area, you likely have more than one airport to choose from. Booking a flight into an alternate airport can save travelers 22 percent ($132) on Thanksgiving flights and 20 percent ($110) on Christmastime flights.
Include multiple airport codes or use a metro code when you search to easily compare all your price options in one results page.
TAKE THE (GRAVY) TRAIN
If you have the option to take a train versus a plane this holiday season, skip the craziness at the airport and head to your nearest Amtrak station. Hipmunk data show that travelers that chose Amtrak realized a 42 percent savings ($185) on comparable routes for Thanksgiving and 35 percent ($101) for Christmastime.
Not sure how to book train travel? Hipmunk shows users Amtrak train trips alongside flight results on routes where Amtrak provides service, making it easy and convenient to compare prices and travel times. By taking the train, not only will your wallet and sanity thank you, so also will the planet.
BOOK AN AIRBNB
That feeling when you want to go home for the holidays, but also need a little space—don’t worry, we’ve got you! You could book a hotel, but accommodations can get pricey around the holidays. Our advice? Book a vacation rental like an Airbnb. Doing so will save travelers 26 percent ($42) versus a hotel for the Thanksgiving holiday and 23 percent ($42) on Christmastime accommodations.