The holiday travel season is upon us, and it’s already late in the game to book tours and make reservations. But there are still ways to save on flights and hotels, as well as earn rewards for future travel savings, for those willing to be flexible.
If you want to travel for the holidays and you haven’t already booked a trip, don’t wait in hopes of snagging a last-minute deal, experts advise.
Demand is strong and prices are high due to the “revenge travel” trend, as the pandemic forces them to avoid and double down on travel.
“We’re expecting a very busy holiday travel season. Even though prices are up there’s really strong demand and we’re encouraging people to act quickly,” said Melanie Lieberman, editor of travel website The Points Guy. “If you haven’t booked yet, don’t wait any longer.”
There were some bargains available for holiday travel dates, but that was in the summer. For example, roundtrip tickets to the Bahamas at Christmas are as cheap as $250.
“It’s an early bird reward,” said Scott Keys, founder of flight aggregator Scott’s Cheap Flights. “For people who are putting off booking until November, I wish I had better news, but this is putting you in a very difficult position.”
Travelers who are flexible about their departure and return dates — and even their destinations — will have more success with the best deals.
Hybrid and remote work allows employees to take longer commutes and push their return dates past the busiest travel days of the year and into the first part of January.
“The best way to unlock savings is to be flexible with your departure date, your return date or the length of your stay. Travelers have gotten creative by extending trips and taking advantage of flexibility by working remotely,” Lieberman said. “Strengthening trips and avoiding traveling on those peak days and peak prices.”
Americans who don’t alreadyIt’s hard to get anywhere in the US but industry insiders say it’s a good time to travel to Europe and other foreign destinations.
“This is the best week of the entire year for international travel,” Keyes said. “Everyone is traveling domestically, it’s a very popular time to fly home, and not everyone traveling domestically is traveling internationally.”
In fact, as of this week, it was cheaper to fly from New York to Milan, Italy than from Wichita, Kansas, US, according to Keyes.
Let the destination choose you
Keys encourages travelers to be open-minded about where they go and let ticket prices dictate their destinations.
“If you have free time and your kids are out of school, the best strategy for getting a cheap flight is to keep your options open. Instead of taking the usual approach of deciding where you want to go and on what dates, look at the costs and then decide which option is more interesting,” Keyes said.
He admits it’s a slightly backward approach that may not work for everyone.
“It’s not intuitive, because people dream about the destination, not the flight,” he said.
But an open mind serves many customers well.
“We often put blinders on and set our hearts on a destination and hope the fare turns out well. The best strategy is to let the deal dictate where you’re going, and that’s especially true during peak travel periods, and especially if you’re booking it at the last minute,” Keys added.
Use a search engine like Google Flights to scan the options by entering your airport of origin. Your destination can be as vast as an entire continent.
Book through the airline
While online travel sites like Expedia.com can be helpful when exploring alternatives, it’s always wise to purchase your flight tickets and hotel reservations directly through the airline operator or hotel.
The rate is usually the same and you cut out the middleman. If your flight is delayed or cancelled, it’s easier to make changes directly through the airline as opposed to relying on a third party.
Earning and writing rewards
It’s worth considering how you’ll pay for your vacation trip to pay as little as possible and earn maximum rewards.
“There are two sides to this — earning rewards and redeeming or burning rewards,” said Ted Roseman, credit card analyst at CreditCards.com.
First, take stock of any unused points or miles you’ve already accumulated
“You may be sitting on a value that you’ve forgotten about,” Rosman said.
It’s too late to sign up for a travel rewards credit card that earns you enough miles to pay for travel this calendar year. But if future travel is on the horizon, it might be worth exploring a credit card that offers generous travel rewards for a trip next spring or summer.
“Typically any time you have a big expense, it’s worth considering,” Roseman said.