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Great ways to save on holiday travel

October 27, 2016
Holiday travel may be stressful, but it needn't be expensive, too. Do your homework and take your time to really save money this season.

The holiday season is a time for greeting, eating and gift-giving, but before any of that can happen, many of us need to travel somewhere first. Far-flung family members around the country require more than a few trips around this time of year, and it can quickly add up. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the number of people traveling more than 50 miles increases by 54 percent around Thanksgiving. And while this often brings news reports of crowded airports or train stations, 91 percent of holiday travelers make these trips by car. That's why running through this list of travel tips and checking it at least twice may be a great way to cut down on these expenses.

On the road

If you're part of the majority of Americans making the holiday journey in a car, make sure everything is sorted out well in advance of leaving.

  • Check insurance:  Auto insurance is essential for every car trip, no matter how long. Take the time to double check your auto insurance policy to be certain it's still in effect, and don't forget to keep proof of insurance in your car or wallet.
  • Check your ride:  As soon as you know you'll be completing a long-distance drive, schedule a full-service tune-up at your dealer or mechanic. It's important to make sure everything is in good working order before embarking on a long trip, including oil changes and tire rotation. Right before you leave, be sure to give your car another once over, checking vitals like tire pressure and fluid levels under the hood.
  • Check the route:  Consult a map or GPS service to find the best way to reach your destination. With this in mind, make a note of how long it will take to get from place to place and plan accordingly. You may need to bring some snacks or schedule a few rest stops in certain locations. It's also possible to cut back on fuel expenses by planning ahead.

With a car in good shape and directions under your belt, it's possible to get just about anywhere in the U.S. However, be sure not to overestimate your driving stamina. Take regular breaks for any trips longer than three hours, and consider booking a hotel for a night in the middle of any journey that may take more than eight hours.

In the air, or elsewhere

While driving is often the most convenient, there are deals to be had for those willing to brave the chaos of an airport during the holidays.

"When it comes to holiday travel, timing is everything.”

Book early, book smart:  First of all, don't dawdle on buying tickets if you want to keep expenses low. According to reporting from The New York Times, the best deals on airfares for Thanksgiving week travel tend to come around late September. If that ship has sailed, getting tickets by the end of October is usually the last chance for real savings. Also, keep in mind that some days are more expensive than others. Return flights on the Friday after Thanksgiving, for example, tend to be the cheapest.

Looking for deals:  While it may be hard to find last-minute, lucrative deals on airfare during the holidays, you might have some luck using other means of searching for discounts and special offers. Many credit card companies might offer rewards for airline miles or various extras like travel insurance. There are also a number of websites that can track prices on certain flights and notify you when an opportunity presents itself.

No matter where you're headed, be sure to keep your home secure while you're away, especially if it will be for more than a couple of days. Before leaving, consider asking a neighbor to collect mail and newspapers, and turn off your home's water main valve to prevent any leaks. To make it seem like someone is home while you're gone, you could also use a light timer to illuminate a window. And of course, be sure to lock all doors and windows.

Holiday travel may be stressful, but it needn't be expensive, too. Do your homework and take your time to really save money this season.