If your family is planning a Thanksgiving or Christmas getaway, one thing you can count on is that you’ll have many traveling companions. If this year’s holiday season is anything like we’ve seen in past years, we can look forward to busier highways, jam-packed flights, and steep prices. The silver lining is that there’s an awful lot you can do to minimize the downsides of traveling during the holiday season. Here’s some excellent advice for those of us without flying reindeer.
1. Pick a Destination You Can Drive To
Airfares go sky high during the peak holiday season, airports are crowded, and flights are full. If you can pile the family in the car and drive, it’s the single best way to spend less.
2. Book Hotels and Flights Earlier
Airfares for holiday periods rise 20 to 50 percent between September and November. There’s no point in holding out for a sweet last-minute deal, and by waiting you take the risk of being shut out of your desired hotel and flights. Instead, look for good overall value and be open to the places that offer the best combination of air, hotel, and activities.
3. Flying? Be Flexible with Dates
During the holidays, fares tend to roughly mimic the school calendars. Schools in the same region tend to take the same holiday breaks, which means families are all looking to get away at the same time. Not surprisingly, the weekends just before and after Thanksgiving and Christmas promise the double whammy of crowded planes and high prices. Conversely, if you’re willing to travel on a holiday itself—Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day—you can often snag a better price.
Want lower prices still? If you are willing to let your kids miss a day or two of school and move your travel dates before or after those peak holiday weekends, it can make a significant difference to both price and comfort.
4. Play Dead
In the travel industry, a period immediately following a peak holiday period—such as right after Thanksgiving or right after New Year’s—is known as a “dead week.” If your kids are still in pre-school and your dates are flexible, timing your holiday getaway for a dead week can result in really big savings. Many resorts drop prices just after Thanksgiving weekend or right after New Year’s. And one of the least expensive times to visit Walt Disney World is immediately after the New Year until mid-February.
5. Find a Shoulder
For every destination that’s in high season, there’s another place in low season. A tried-and-true money-saving trick is to simply target off-season destinations. Looking for a more affordable Thanksgiving getaway? Consider a beach getaway in the Caribbean, where it’s shoulder season. Or opt for an early bird ski trip at any of the Western ski mountains that open before Turkey day.