Are you an advance planner or an improviser? Your travel planning style might save you money during the busy, winter holiday travel season.
Generally, families with children and a need for specific seating and direct flights may need to plan earlier to secure such reservations. More flexible travelers can roll the dice on last-minute deals.
Here are some ideas to explore:
Be open-minded about scheduling
Most people know red-eye and dawn flights are typically cheaper. However, holiday travel presents its own set of opportunities for pricing and availability if you don’t follow the crowd. For example, with Thanksgiving always on a Thursday, most travelers choose Tuesday or Wednesday for arrival and Sunday for departure. Choosing a different scheduling window, including travel on the actual holiday, may not only save money but considerable stress getting to and from clogged airports, and train and bus stations.
Drive smart or leave the keys at home
If you’re using your own automobile, make sure your collision and liability coverages are adequate to cover potential medical and repair costs for other motorists if you’re in an accident out of town. If you’re planning to rent a vehicle, speak with your auto insurance agent before you go. Many personal policies do extend domestic collision and liability coverage to rentals, but it’s particularly important to confirm coverage if you’re traveling outside the United States. Of course, if you’re visiting a place with excellent public transportation or safe bike routes, check pricing. An affordable bike rental (pack a helmet) or multi-day city or regional bus-and-rail pass might eliminate the need for a car altogether.
Saving money on accommodations is another area where you can save substantial dollars by either planning significantly ahead or trolling for last-minute bargains.
Top family destinations generally require reservations months in advance, but see how full they are closest to the actual holiday dates. Many family members may travel a week before or a week after the actual holiday, but won’t stay over the holiday. That leaves more rooms and activities available. The same goes for stays in other popular tourist locations around the world. Check destination hotels closer to the date to see if they’re offering special rates or packages.
Put your membership dollars to work
If you belong to an auto club or have credit cards with particular travel benefits, see whether any of those benefits—from actual mileage points to coupon discounts—can be used to save money.
Check your home, health and business insurance
If you are traveling domestically or globally, see if your personal health insurance extends to your destination. The same goes for home/rental and business insurance. Many people don’t realize that some or all of their personal insurance coverage may cover medical, theft, liability, injury and other risks at their destination. Read your policy and confirm your assumptions with your agent.
Consider travel insurance to fill any gaps. Once you’ve confirmed the limits of your personal coverage, research travel insurance policy sites (www.insuremytrip.com) and recent articles on travel insurance so you can make sure common risks like trip cancellation and lost luggage are covered, as well as specialized risks like advanced medical care and medical transportation at your destination.
Watch those bags
Many airlines charge ascending fees for every checked bag, so packing light has never made more sense. However, major air and ground shipping companies are now offering luggage-shipping services for domestic and overseas travelers with pickup options at their ground facilities. Make a call and see if this option makes sense, particularly if you take extra clothes or gifts with you at the holidays.
Bottom line: Holiday travel bargains can be found months in advance and sometimes at the last minute. Your flexibility will determine the deals you can get.
Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa’s financial education programs.