As we hurl toward the holidays, many of us are looking to pin down holiday plans and book travel. But with skyrocketing airfare costs and inflation, how is it possible to save money this holiday season?

While airline ticket prices are up 25% — surpassing inflation — there are still savvy ways to save on flights and travel. 

Maximize Your Reward Programs and Miles

Right now is a great time to cash in on your hard-earned airline points and miles. Using points or miles keeps money in your pocket while giving you the resources to take that trip. Some programs have expiration dates on their miles, so check your specific program policies to ensure your points aren’t in danger of expiring. 

If you don’t already have a credit card offering airline or travel points and you have upcoming trips, consider signing up for one – here are some options. Many cards offer generous welcome bonuses that can offset the high cost of holiday travel. Don’t forget to check for blackout dates before you book travel or sign up for a new card; some credit card rewards are ineligible during popular travel times. 

Lighten Your Load and Budget 

Bringing extra baggage on your flight can be a hassle, and it’s tough on your wallet too. Bag fees add up quickly, especially when you’re carrying gifts for family and friends. Pack lighter and save some cash with these tips:

  • Use a carry-on to avoid checked bag fees altogether.
  • Price out the difference between shipping gifts to your destination and carrying on additional bags.
  • Book your flight with an airline that doesn’t charge for checked baggage or allows for a certain number of bags for free.

Another upside to carrying on? Airlines are experiencing a drastic increase in lost and delayed luggage. Nearly double the amount of bags have been mishandled by airlines this year compared to last year, so save yourself the headache and the money by avoiding checked luggage altogether. 

Take the Scenic Route

Between the price of gas, airfare, hotels, and more, what’s the most affordable holiday travel option? It’s easy to forget that airlines aren’t the only way to travel this holiday season. 

Before you book that flight, do some research to see if there’s a more cost-effective option. Budget-friendly alternatives include:

  • Plan a road trip 
  • Take the train
    • Train travel can be a more affordable way to get to your holiday plans — and it’s a great way to see the road less traveled. Amtrak serves over 500 locations across the U.S. and even offers a rewards program.
    • When possible, opt for high-speed trains to make the best time. 
  • Check the bus schedule
    • Bus travel can maximize your travel budget and get you where you need to go.
    • Greyhound offers a range of locations and options.

Take Advantage of Last-Minute Deals

Are you planning a spur-of-the-moment trip? You might benefit from last-minute travel deals as airlines try to fill their seats on upcoming flights. When it comes to booking last-minute travel, flexibility is your best friend. Selecting “off” flight times, flights with layovers, and traveling on Tuesdays and Wednesdays can help you save on travel costs. 

Flying on a holiday also tends to be cheaper, so if you can fly out on Thanksgiving Day and land in time for turkey, you’ll probably get a better deal on airfare. With a little creative scheduling, you can hopefully find a flight time that works for your schedule and your budget.

Thanks to wild airfare pricing and an uptick in airline scheduling chaos, the conventional wisdom of booking early doesn’t necessarily apply this year. If you find a flight that works for your budget, book it and don’t look back. 

Budget-Friendly Holiday Travel is Within Reach

While no one is immune to the effects of inflation right now, especially travelers, you can still make the most of holiday travel while staying within your budget. There are plenty of online resources and tips to help you create a cost-effective travel plan for the holiday season. With a little ingenuity and flexibility, you can find ways to pack your bags without emptying your wallet.

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