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Five Cost-Efficient Travel Tips for the Holiday Season

The holidays are a time for families to get together, but if you don't live near your family, it can be expensive to visit them. Instead of being discouraged, try being resourceful with these five tips to lower sky-high travel prices to financially feasible levels.

Airplane flying in the blue sky


1. Be Flexible with Travel Dates.

Quite often your first-choice travel days are the ones everyone wants: right before and after the holiday itself. Those days will be expensive, no doubt. Avoid the crowds, and see if you can travel mid-December and/or the start of January, which are the off-peak, less expensive periods of the holiday season. For a more specific itinerary, airline and hotel comparison sites like Kayak and Orbitz can help you find days near your ideal travel dates at lower rates. Traveling on the holiday itself can also be a cheaper option.

2. Stay in Business Hotels.

If you're traveling to a city with a downtown area, don't rule out the business district as an affordable hotel option. While these areas are typically quite pricey during the week, prices may drop to lower levels during weekends and holidays, as few people are in town on business. Not only will you get a lower rate, you'll also get a great value for your money, as these hotels are often four- and five-star properties. Conversely, traditionally cheaper suburban hotels are often more expensive, as they fill up fast with out-of-towners visiting family and friends.

3. Fly into Alternate Airports.

Sometimes the largest and most convenient airport is also the most expensive. If you can make the trade-off and get alternative transportation, or if you're willing to drive a little further, you can get deep discounts on airfare. For example, in New York, LaGuardia (LGA) is often cheaper to fly into than JFK, and Midway (MDW) in Chicago frequently has lower prices than nearby O'Hare. Low-cost airlines, such as Southwest, often only fly into these airports, as they offer more competitive carrier rates.

4. Book Packages.

If you need plane tickets, a hotel room and a rental car—or at least two of the three—book them together to save money. Many major discount travel sites offer package deals, where you can choose all of the elements yourself and save money simply by doing all the booking in one place.

5. Be a Savvy Flyer.

Even if you get the airline deal, be on your toes for additional fees or unexpected delays. Always check for baggage fees. Direct flights are ideal for that reason—and for preventing any overnight delays that require additional hotel costs. Being early for the flight is a no-brainer, but also consider arriving early to get off-site airport parking if you leave your car. Use public transit, like Seattle's Central Link light rail and network of buses, to get to the airport.

Traveling during the holiday season can be the most expensive thing you do in December or January, but it can be easier on your wallet if you take the time to choose cost-efficient options. Finding the lowest prices available for travel plans can be challenging, but it’s definitely worthwhile. Remember, the earlier you book and the more flexible you are with your travel plans, the greater your savings.

Spencer Tierney is a writer for NerdWallet, a personal finance website that helps consumers learn to budget better.

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