“Do I really love my family this much? Is it socially acceptable to Facetime home for the holidays?”
When I wait too long to buy a flight home, I start entertaining some sad questions like this.
If you’re like me and waited until the last minute to buy a flight home for the holidays, you’re certainly in a tougher spot than you were a few weeks or months ago. But you don’t need to completely go into panic mode. Talk yourself off the cliff and act now — there are a few surprisingly easy ways to save a few extra bucks.
Explore all of the things
Google Flights recently got a clutch update that made it unquestionably the best tool to track flights. Plug in your destination cities and Dr. Google will show you a calendar with aggregate prices, featuring the cheapest flight each day. Perhaps best of all is its flight price tracker, which sends you notifications when prices drop. The search engine also draws from historical flight pricing data to give you an idea of the best time to buy.
If you want a true travel hack, try Skiplagged. Their biggest trick is what they call “hidden” flights: say I want to fly from Denver to Chicago but direct flights there are astronomical. Sfbrekiplagged knows that there’s a flight from Denver to Chicago, and after that, the flight is going from Chicago to St. Louis. Often these multi-city trips are much more affordable and all I have to do is get off in Chicago. The catch is that you cannot check a bag for these “hidden” flights, but for a last-minute hack, you can’t get much better than this.
Try an alternate airport
This past year I was in a wedding in Twin Falls, Idaho. It’s kinda hard to get there unless you want to pay big bucks to fly straight into Magic Valley Regional Airport. Your next best option is an expensive flight into Boise followed by a two-hour drive to Twin Falls. I did love my friends enough to bite the bullet on a Boise flight, but with a little digging, I found an even better option.
As it turned out, flights into Salt Lake City were cheap. It added another hour to the drive, but it saved me a heap of dough. Score one for not breaking the bank. Keep in mind that most flight-price-search aggregators may not suggest alternate airport options. If you’re willing to drive a little further to save money, look around for major airports within driving distance of your destination before you book.
Be flexible about when you fly
This is somewhat of an obvious one, but it’s worth serious consideration. Does it really matter that you fly out the day before the holiday celebration? Can you take a red-eye flight instead?
When you travel on the day of a major holiday, you’ll tend to get the most affordable airfare, plus the added benefit of the least traffic in the airport. That lower stress could pay off as you prepare for heated political debates at the dinner table.
Get creative to avoid paying baggage fees
Airlines collect billions annually from baggage fees. To avoid taking on that extra $25–75, consider wearing your bulkiest clothes to the airport. The person next to you might think you’re a nutjob, but the benefits are myriad. It could be the difference between a small carry-on bag and a heavy, pricier suitcase.
You should also, of course, pack as smart as possible. “Overpacking commonly begins with too much clothing,” says the excellent packing resource website OneBag.org. Consider: do I truly need this extra outfit, or can I wear the same one twice and do laundry at my family’s house? Also, try to bring practical shoes that function in both dressy and casual situations.
Eat meals before or after you get to the airport — and pack snacks
Pass the airport security lines and something magical happens the price of every food item doubles! The dollar menus all disappear, too! Fascinating stuff. I know how easy it is to just eat away the stress with a Cinnabon. But why not just avoid airport food altogether? Odds are you’ve already been forced into buying a pricier flight. Don’t let the system game you any further.
Eat a light, healthy meal at home beforehand. Pack some trail mix in your purse or backpack. Bring an empty water bottle and fill it at the drinking fountain. On a round-trip flight, a little restraint can save you a nice chunk of change. And it’ll make a big holiday meal taste that much better.
Bring your own entertainment
Yes, that shiny Michael Crichton book or Cosmo can be an attractive impulse buy at the newsstand. But can a podcast suffice? How about a free classic book on your Kindle? There are many ways to be entertained without spending $7.99 on a glossy magazine that’ll quickly end up in the recycling bin.
Plan ahead for ground transportation
Try to figure out ahead of time how you’ll get to your destination from the airport and you’ll avoid that impromptu taxi ride. Any chance a relative can pick you up from the airport? Play the “family sticks together” card and hitch a ride instead of dropping money on a cab or an Uber. If that fails, roll with public transportation. If you must hire a car, try uberPOOL, Uber’s carpool service, which will take a little longer but save you a few extra bucks.
Knowing a handful of hacks can go a long way to save money on last-minute travel. What are your travel hacks to save during the holidays?
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