During the holidays, I’m frequently on TV and radio doling out travel advice as the holiday hordes anticipate their trips. Here are my answers to some of the most frequently asked questions:
Q: When’s the best time to buy airline tickets for Christmas? Due to high demand, there simply are not any real airfare “deals” on the peak days around Christmas and New Year’s this year. Travelers who want the most convenient flights on their preferred airlines should book as soon as possible to get seats on those flights – otherwise they will likely be stuck paying the same high price for less desirable flights that depart super early or late, they’ll have to sit in those dreaded middle seats, or make several stops en route to their destinations. Best way to monitor air fares: Google Flights
Q: Should I drive or fly this year? I always stick to the five hour rule: If you can drive to your destination in five hours or less, it’s likely smarter to hit the road instead of the skies during the holidays. This is especially true for families traveling together. If you haven’t done so yet, download the Waze app, a GPS-based mapping tool that uses information provided by other drivers to help you avoid traffic, road hazards – and speed traps! Find least expensive gasoline using GasBuddy.
Q: What’s a good way to avoid holiday travel stress? Always try to book nonstop flights, because you double your chances of a delay or cancellation with a one-stop flight, even though you might save a few bucks. Another stress-busting move: Consider staying over in a hotel when visiting families during the holidays. Rates at mid-range hotels in or near airports or suburban office parks hit annual lows during holidays (due to the lack of business travelers), and facilities are usually new and nice. For example, the popular Best Western Plus Grosvenor hotel has rates as low as $80 per night over Christmas weekend- they are normally around $150. Having your own space at a hotel is a big relief for both the traveler and the host during the stressful holidays.
Q: Are there any alternatives or hidden secrets to getting good deals this year? If you have the flexibility to travel during the slowest times of year, the so-called “dead weeks” of early December and early January, you can save 50-70 percent on airfare or hotels. Some ski resorts will discount lift tickets during dead weeks. It’s also a good idea to check out airline or hotel social media streams on sites like Twitter or Facebook to look for short term, last minute sales. For example, JetBlue has an extraordinary “12 Days of Christmas” sale this month with some great bargains for those who are ready to drop everything and go. (Note: The JetBlue sale has been so popular that it’s frequently overloaded the site this week, so keep trying.)
Q: Is now a good time to redeem points or miles for trips? It’s nearly impossible to use airline frequent flyer awards during the blacked out, heavily restricted peak holiday season. On the other hand, demand for hotels declines during holidays, which means that it’s a lot easier to redeem those hard-earned loyalty points—or find good last minute deals. This is also a good time of year to consider using your credit card points to pay for pricey airfare and hotels. Why is now great time to consider a new credit card? See this.
Q: What about airline baggage fees? If possible, avoid checking bags during the holidays; the risk of your bag getting lost and ruining your trip is just too high. Try to learn to live out of a carry-on. If you have too much for a carry on, ship your bags ahead of time, but do so at the “ground” rate at UPS, FedEx or the Postal Service. Shipping a 25 lb. bag via next-day or two-day express is just too expensive. How expensive? See this.
Chris’s holiday travel advice first appeared on Best Western’s YouMustBeTrippin.com blog
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