8 Money-Smart Holiday Travel Tips

November 05, 2018

Written by Amy L. Lauricella, Content Writer

Family In Winter Jackets Sitting In Car

1. Travel lighter. 

Checking a bag for a flight has never exactly been what we would call cheap. But if your holiday trip home is your first flight of 2018, you and your wallet may be in for an unpleasant surprise. Many airlines have raised their baggage fees this year, and fees for a round trip could nearly double the total cost of your ticket. Do what you have to do to squeeze everything into your carry on bag. Consider shipping presents ahead of you (the TSA recommends doing this anyway, since wrapped gifts may need to be opened and inspected). Limiting yourself to a carry on bag not only saves you money, it also makes it easier to switch flights at the last minute if your original plane ends up being delayed. 


2. Put your smartphone to work. 

Yes, smartphones are great for keeping the kids (or you) busy in the backseat or at the airport, but you can put them to more serious time and money-saving use as well. There’s no reason to wait in long check-in lines at the airport when you can simply check in online and then download a mobile boarding pass to your smartphone. If you’re taking a holiday road trip, try an app like Gasbuddy.com to find the cheapest fuel stops on your journey. 

3. Stock up on snacks.

Once you cross through that TSA security check, food and drinks magically become twice as costly. If you’re traveling by car, fast food stops can add up your expenses and the time spent on the road.  But you definitely don’t want to travel “hangry,” so head to the grocery store a day or so before your trip to stock up on healthier, less expensive sustenance. You can’t bring beverages with you through an airport security check, but savvy travelers know to follow this trick: take an empty water bottle with you and then fill it up at a water fountain past the checkpoint to avoid paying $3 or more for bottled water.    


4. Be on the lookout for deals.

You can find deals and coupons for just about anything if you look hard enough, and that includes traveling costs. For example, you can often get a deal if you reserve flight tickets, rental cars, and/or hotel rooms as a package through a travel website. Or, if you book a flight through a major airline but then find a cheaper flight within 24 hours, you can cancel the first reservation and get a full refund, according to a U.S. Department of Transportation law. (There are a few caveats to this policy: for example, you must have purchased your ticket at least seven days in advance, and you need to have booked the flight directly through the airline and not through a travel site like Expedia, Travelocity, etc.).


5. Don’t be a target.

When traveling by car, keep any valuables and holiday gifts stored in the trunk, or cover them up with pillows and blankets when leaving your car unattended during a pit stop. And remember that airports, train stations, and other busy public transportation hubs are not the place to flaunt flashy jewelry or to have your wallet peeking out from your back pocket.  


6. Keep your financial institution in the loop.  

If you’re going out-of-state for the holidays, be sure to notify your credit union or bank and/or your credit card company of your travel plans. Otherwise, they may place a well-intentioned—but very frustrating—freeze on your debit or credit card when you first try to swipe it out of town.  


7. Carry money correctly. 

Take both cash (preferably in smaller bills) as well as a credit or debit cards with you on your trip so you’ll be prepared for anything. Whenever possible, divvy up your funds, both paper and plastic, into multiple spots. For example, keep a few bills and one card in a wallet on your person, and then a couple more bills and a second card in another wallet in your bag. That way, even if one wallet winds up misplaced, you’re not totally without funding for the rest of your trip. If you have a credit card and are comfortable charging your trip expenses onto it, using one is generally preferable to traveling with a debit card, since credit cards add another layer of protection between would-be thieves and your bank account. 


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8. Get the most out of your credit card. 

If your credit card is of the travel rewards variety, then the expensive holiday season is of course an ideal time to put those points into action by redeeming them toward that ticket home. Depending on your card, you may be able to score extra points or miles not just for obvious travel expenses like flights and hotels, but also for charging things like restaurant meals, taxi or Uber fare, and public parking fees during your winter vacation. 

Even if your credit card isn’t strictly a travel rewards card, it could come with money-saving travel perks that you may not be taking full advantage of (or even aware of yet). For example, some credit cards carry benefits such as baggage delay insurance or roadside emergency assistance, and many premier-level cards offer special deals on dining, shopping, and entertainment. Some cards may offer auto rental collision damage insurance that will cover car rentals you charge on that card. Before your trip, reacquaint yourself with what kind of travel-related perks your plastic may provide.