During the peak holiday travel season, everyone’s looking for a deal or a steal. But the truth of the matter is that bargains are nearly impossible to find during the busy Thanksgiving and Christmas season.
And if you snag what you think is a great deal, you might end up “getting what you pay for.”
As a matter of fact, paying a little more at this time of year usually translates into more peace of mind, more quality time with friends or family, and the increased likelihood of a low-hassle trip home for the holidays…. which is what we all want.
Here are six examples to illustrate what I mean:
1> Take a nonstop flight. While you might be tempted by the price of a one-stop flight, by choosing one, you are increasing your chances of a delay or cancellation by 100%! Why take that chance, especially if you are headed home for just a few days, and a delayed or canceled flight could spoil the entire trip?
Cost: $50 to $200 depending on flight length
Example: Flying during peak Christmas week between San Francisco and Atlanta, you’ll currently pay $781 roundtrip for a six-hour one-stop journey on American connecting in Dallas or Chicago. On the other hand, fly four hours nonstop on Delta or United and the fare is $820- just $39 more. Worth it to fly nonstop? I think so. (Fares checked Nov 23 for flights departing Dec 23, returning Dec 27 and are subject to change.)
2>Book roomier airline seats. While you can always pay a lot more to sit in first class, you can now pay a little bit more, and get a more comfortable coach seat. During the busy, crowded holidays, that’s money well spent. While getting a few extra inches of room always helps, the real benefit of paying for a better economy seat is that you usually get to board early—with elite level flyers—which means you get first dibs on scarce overhead bin space.
Cost: Varies based on carrier and flight duration– $10-$100 per segment
Example: I frequently take advantage of last minute upgrades to Virgin America’s Main Cabin Select seats, which offer a few extra inches of legroom at exit rows and bulkheads, free in-flight food and booze, dedicated bin space and early boarding privileges. While reserving a Main Cabin Select seat in advance can be expensive, cheaper last-minute upgrades (24 hours prior to flight) can make a good flight a great one. While your elite status can help land free upgrade, it’s not always a sure thing, so consider buying them ahead of time at this time of year– see American’s Main Cabin Extra, Delta’s Comfort+, United’s Economy Plus.
3> Stay at a hotel. Why burden the in-laws with the stress of houseguests during the already stressful holidays? Instead of bunking on that lumpy sofa bed or stuffy guest room, book a nearby hotel. Tip: Due to lack of demand from business travelers, most hotels are dirt-cheap during the holidays, especially those located in suburban office parks. Plus, hotel chains use their loyalty programs to keep heads in beds during these slower periods. For example, Best Western is offering 10% off its lowest rates plus 500 bonus Rewards points for stays now through Feb 7. Hilton is now offering 2,500 HHonors points for stays during December.
Cost: $50 to $100 per night, depending on location.
Example: A nice, newish Hilton Garden Inn in the northern Atlanta suburbs (Perimeter Mall) costs only $66 per night during Christmas week—but book it two months later in March when business travelers are back on the road and you’ll pay nearly three times that much– $180.
4> Review your charge card benefits & consider a new card. Most banks have added a slew of new benefits to charge cards in recent years to woo free-spending, credit-worthy frequent travelers, so you might be packing more power in your pocket than you know. While annual fees are higher for such cards, many now offer benefits that come in handy for holiday travel such as waived baggage fees, access to airport lounges, better insurance, early boarding privileges, early check in/late check out or upgrades at hotels, concierge services and more. And with sign up bonuses, your holiday spending could translate into big savings on next year’s trips.
Cost: varies, but $89 to $450 per year
Examples: While the American Express Platinum card sounds expensive at $450/year, the benefits can pay off big time. For example, the card gets you out of the airport holiday mayhem and into 600 airport lounges (gratis) around the world, covers up to $200 airline fees from checked bags to in-flight food or cocktails. For a $95 fee, the United MileagePlus Explorer card offers early boarding, one free checked bag, and two United Club passes. Many high-end cards also offer concierge services that can help get you out of travel jams—worth a call if you get stuck!
5> Use Uber/Lyft to/from the airport or consider public transportation. There are lots of reasons why you should use a car service for a ride to or from the airport during the holidays. First, don’t burden friends or family with the chore of driving to the airport during rush hour traffic to pick you up or drop you off. Second, when arriving, you walk straight to your waiting car instead of waiting in those long, cold taxi queues at airports that form during peak holiday season. Flying into an airport that has rapid rail connections in house? Jump on the train and meet your family at a station instead of at the crowded airport.
Cost: UberX and Lyft offer fares that meet or beat cabs, but beware of surge pricing at peak times. Here’s some advice on beating surge pricing.
6> Book holiday trips via a real, live travel agents. Most budget-conscious travelers shy away from travel agents who charge fees. But as the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) likes to say, “Without a travel agent, you’re on your own.” Most travel agents can use their experience, connections and clout to help get you out of sticky situations, plus most of them have knowledge and experience to offer you the best alternatives when or if you get stuck. This is especially true if you have complex itineraries or are traveling with a large family or group.
Cost: $20-$50 or negotiable
Example: ASTA’s motto surely rang true recently when winter storm Cato blew up the East Coast on Thanksgiving last year. Most of those who booked trips via travel agents were able to get through to them by phone and adjust travel plans faster than those who only had airline 800-numbers. (Note: Be sure the travel agent you choose has an after hours emergency number.) Another tip: Be sure to download your airline’s app to your smartphone, most can now help with rebooking and avoid standing in a long airport line lines during delay or cancellation situations.
Chris doled out some holiday travel tips to Fox Business News this week- watch this video
Where are YOU headed for the holidays? Please leave your comments below.
NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: 5 ways to save using Uber/Lyft + New overseas plan from Verizon + Trans-Pac fare war?