5 holiday travel tips to save you hundreds of dollars this year

holiday travel tip

Many travelers are guilty of the same mistake during the holidays: they will buy their flight at the last minute, fly peak travel dates, underestimate airport wait times and surrender to Uber surge pricing. On top of that, the average American spends about $967 over the holidays, including gifts. You don’t have to spend so much if you plan right. Here are 5 holiday travel tips to save you hundreds of dollars over Thanksgiving and Christmas.

First, I should mention that Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years are the most expensive times of the year in general. Obviously, supply meets demand, so the question you need to ask yourself: how can you have a great, affordable vacation when millions of other people are booking?

I’ve traveled to 113 countries, stayed in over 600 hotels and have flown almost a million miles, so I know a thing or two about saving money. Take note of my tips, and you can save hundreds (even thousands, depending on how large your travel group is) of dollars.

5 holiday travel tips to save you hundreds of dollars

1. Book your flight YESTERDAY

Delta Sky Priority LaGuardia Airport
Delta Sky Priority LaGuardia Airport

Miracles may happen on 34th Street, but *not* in holiday airfare. Sorry, but Santa is like “ho ho NO.”

Anyway, any fare you search now will not get any cheaper. That’s the reality. You can look at a bunch of different flight booking sites (or just use Tripadvisor), but don’t expect to get fares you’ll jump on.

Airlines know millions will travel during the holidays so, unfortunately, there is no “last-minute holiday airfare deal.” In fact, if you’re already looking to Thanksgiving and Christmas, winter holidays are the most traveled holidays in America, so an airline will likely not offer cheap seats and lose profit.

Even if an airline does have a sale, airfare will still be expensive compared to other times of the year. Lesson: The longer you wait, the more you’ll pay. You could buy tickets now, but know the rules of the airline you book with. Some offer refunds.

Also, not only will booking early yield cheaper fares, you get first dibs on seats and better routes to choose from. Instead of long stop-overs in Phoenix or Dallas, you can likely fly direct if you book now.

holiday travel tips
Booking early means you’ll definitely get a seat in business class before it’s sold out.

2. Avoid peak days

Hartsfield International Airport

You can save about $100 flying on a non-peak day.

Even if you manage to find a great deal traveling on a peak day (like November 23, November 27, December 23 or December 31), you’ll be subject to crowded airports, traffic, Uber surcharges and high chances for delays. Delays are the worst, and you could shell out money for expensive airport food, airport hotels (if you’re bumped) and, well… stuff you don’t need. In fact, airport shops are thriving businesses because people tend to just buy things under the stress and anxiety of flying.

Try to be flexible with your travel dates, and remember, if you’re already planning for winter holidays: the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after Thanksgiving are the two most expensive and stressful days to fly out of the entire year!

holiday travel tips
This is what the airport basically looks like on a non-peak day.

3. Use your air miles already

Here’s something airlines don’t ever tell you: the good days of frequent flier programs are over. Want proof? Read this excellent story in the New York Times on how mileage programs are worse than ever.  Wire magazine is also like “see ya” with the frequent flier miles.


Frequent-flier miles have significantly lost value over the years (which I discuss in this YouTube video), and it’s harder to use them. Airlines offer fewer award seat availability, earning miles is harder (airlines are offering rewards based on dollar spent rather than miles flown), and the only travelers truly benefiting are loyal business travelers.

Flights over the holidays are already expensive, so why not cash in those miles? You could save hundreds of dollars. Fly round-trip with miles or use miles to upgrade to first class because the perks are worth it, especially over the holidays (dedicated fast lane at the airport, free checked bag, first to board, etc), which helps travel become less of a hassle and saves you money on add-ons.

If you’ve already bought your flight, you can use your miles for gifts (like merchandise and gift cards) for family and friends.

It’s best to use miles now before they further depreciate. And trust me: they will. Let this be one of your biggest lessons of holiday travel tips!

I used tons of miles in the past year because they are definitely losing value, and there’s no point in hoarding.

4. Arrive super early

Delta Gate at Terminal D Laguardia
Delta Gate at Terminal D Laguardia

Travelers often arrive at the airport just in time for their flights, but make an exception over the holidays and allow at least two hours for domestic travel. Remember, security lines will be longer over the holidays, whether you’re TSA Pre-Check or not. You don’t want to miss your flight, which can cost you hundreds of dollars to be re-booked. Let’s not take that risk.

If you’re driving to a destination, count on highway traffic, packed gas stations, overcrowded roadside restaurants and more delays that can cause snags and alter your plans.

This is your future if you don’t arrive to the airport early.

5. Book a vacation rental

Catskills cabin
Catskills cabin

If you like to stay in nice hotels over the holidays, think about trading it in for a vacation rental (here are 5 great reasons you should book a vacation rental over a hotel).

Vacation rentals are equipped with luxe amenities (with full kitchens so you can still cook that turkey), have multiple rooms and plenty of privacy. They’re also bang for your buck when you have a bigger family.

I’ve seen 8-bedroom, beachfront private villas in Puerto Vallarta go for $2,000 a night while a fancy hotel down the street is the same price for only three rooms.

Casa Septiembre in Puerto Vallarta is an amazing 9-bedroom, private beachfront villa.

Casa Septiembre in Puerto Vallarta is an amazing 9-bedroom, private beachfront villa.

Have more holiday travel tips? Leave in the comments below!

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Jimmy Im has traveled to 113 countries, stayed at over 600 hotels and clocked millions of air miles. He currently lives in New York City.

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