Tips to Save Money on Thanksgiving Travel

Traveling can be expensive, especially this time of year, but these ten tips from travel experts can help you save

Tips to Save Money on Thanksgiving Travel

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Traveling can be expensive, especially this time of year, but these ten tips from travel experts can help you save.

Be Flexible

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The key to finding cheap flights is to be flexible with your days, says John “Johnny Jet” DiScala, a U.S.-based travel expert and the editor-in-chief at JohnnyJet.com. If you aren’t flexible, then you aren’t going to get a great deal. It’s not that difficult to figure out that the most expensive time to fly is when everyone else is, too (i.e. holidays, Fridays, Sundays, and Mondays). When Grandma’s pumpkin pie is waiting, flexibility may seem laughable, but it can be done. Perhaps arriving Wednesday afternoon vs. Thursday morning (or vice versa) can make a world of difference. Compare prices and see what you can accomplish! Courtney Scott, Travelocity.com's senior editor, says that while “historically there has been a slight decrease in airfare prices about two weeks out from Thanksgiving,” she doesn’t recommend waiting until that close to the holiday to purchase your tickets. “Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel periods of the year,” says Scott, “so I recommend booking as soon as possible. In general, I recommend setting up email alerts and fare trackers to keep an eye on prices and I recommend looking on Twitter for the latest travel deals.” 

Consider the Time of Day

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You aren’t the only one who also wants to leave after work and school to make it home for Thanksgiving, so when doing your flight search don’t put a specific time, says DiScala. Generally, the most expensive times to fly are peak business travel hours (8 to 10 a.m. and 5 to 7 p.m.). Cheaper seats tend to depart early in the morning (5 to 7 a.m.) or late in the evening (after 8 p.m.). By leaving early in the morning, you also have the best chance of not getting delayed.

Alternative Airports

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We get it, mom and dad live in Deerfield Beach and going to south Florida for Turkey Day is your inevitable end game. You can still find a great deal! Not only do you want to be flexible with dates and times, but be flexible with airports too, suggests DiScala. For example, rather than flying into (or out of) Miami when going to South Florida, check out Fort Lauderdale Airport; it’s only 25 miles north and flights from there are usually much cheaper. You can also check out West Palm Beach, which is another 49 miles away. To map out all the major U.S. alternative airports (by actual driving miles), DiScala created a website called AlternateAirports.com.

Discover Mobile Apps

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If you're embarking on a road trip this holiday, try the GasBuddy app; it will show you the most affordable gas prices nearest to your location. If you're looking for local deals on family-friendly activities, food, and entertainment, try the Valpak app, says savings expert Jennie Sanford of BargainBlessings.com. You can choose from hundreds of great local coupons in the area you're traveling to, easily searching by store, category, or name. And when you find a coupon you want, just show it to the cashier for instant savings. If you’re in need of a last-minute hotel, check out the Hotel Tonight app; new deals are shared at noon each day for dozens of cities. The Booking.com app is another good one to find the perfect place to stay on a budget. 

Get Social

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“Like” and follow retail brands and restaurants on Facebook and Twitter for exclusive deals. Use Twitter to search for #deal, #save, or #coupon, and you’ll find a flood of thrifty tweets, says Sanford. Follow airlines on Twitter for access to real-time price alerts. For example, @JetBlueCheeps tweets new deals every Tuesday. Sign up for alerts on sites like AirfareWatchdog.com and CheapAir.com; enter your route, and you'll receive emails when ticket prices drop. Keep in mind that prices are highest 8 to 10 weeks and two to three weeks in advance, says Sanford. To figure out the best days to fly, head to Priceline's Best Days to Fly Calendar, especially if holiday travel is on your mind. And before booking, always check coupon sites like Savings.com for exclusive offers on flights, car rentals, hotels and more, says Sanford.


Use the Right Card

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The great thing about the holiday season is that you know exactly when it’s coming.To accrue the most miles in time for Thanksgiving, use credit cards rich in mileage reward programs to book flights and also for everyday expenses, says Andrea Woroch, a nationally recognized money-saving expert and regularly national news contributor. The Barclay Arrival World MasterCard is a popular choice because it doesn't have an annual fee. Check out this list of recommended cards from The Simple Dollar.

Consider Your Transit Options

Price Track and Match

If your holiday destination isn’t too far, consider taking a bus or train, which can be inexpensive and include amenities like free Wi-Fi, says savings expert Jeanette Pavini of Coupons.com. For example, Greyhound recently went through a complete company transformation, equipping all of its buses with free Wi-Fi, power outlets, and luxury leather seating. Chances are you may be traveling with kids, and you may be able to find deep discounts on train or bus travel. “I have found as much as 50 percent off for kids through age 15," Pavini says. "It's a good alternative if last minute airfare is astronomical!” Ask about destination discounts like local museums or restaurants that may give train riders a deal when they show their ticket. 

Price Track and Match

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Since the travel industry is notorious for fluctuating prices for hotel rooms and flights depending on demand, which means tracking prices around the holidays is especially essential, Woroch says. Use sites like Yapta.com to track flight prices, and if you notice a price on the same flight/seat goes down after your purchase, ask for an airline credit. Sites like Hotels.com are always willing to price match competitors’ lowest prices, and you can still earn rewards by booking through their site. Simply call customer service to request the credit and present a link or screen shot of the lower price you found. From airfare to hotels and car rentals, these days you can find coupons for just about any travel need, says Woroch. At sites like CouponSherpa.com you can print coupons or apply coupon codes to online bookings for big savings like 15 percent off weekly rentals at Hertz or 10 percent off weekend rentals at Avis.

Beat the System

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Paying inflated costs for a better in-flight experience is frustrating, but luckily you have other options. Though you may be trying to leave room for the Thanksgiving meal that lie ahead, you should bring non-perishable snacks to avoid the high markup on airline munchies, and pack an empty water bottle in your carry-on or personal item. In addition to water fountains, many airports have water bottle fill-up stations at gates for your convenience, says Woroch. While you are at it, use this same concept to save on entertainment. Bring a book, download free games or ebooks to your gadget, or bring a laptop and DVDs. While in-flight movies and iTunes movie downloads cost about the same, remember you can keep the content from iTunes or Google Play and get more bang for your buck.

Consider a Smarter Smartphone

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Anyone who has ever traveled abroad with a smartphone knows how rapidly those tweets and Instagram posts can make your bill explode. Get more creative. Skype has a hotspot finder that works worldwide to help you save money on calls and data roaming, for example, and Republic Wireless lets you make and receive calls over WiFi, with no special apps required. Use WiFi to download subway maps, restaurant suggestions, and walking tours; just about anything to avoid the normal tourist traps. Another option is YouRoam, a mobile app that lets you make and receive calls on your own phone number without paying roaming and long distance fees while you travel. You'll never miss a call and instead of paying $1 to $3 (minimum) calling back home, you pay only 1 cent per minute. And remember, you don't have to be on Facebook every moment of your trip! Take a break from social media and live in the moment! It’s Thanksgiving, after all!