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Going Home for the Holidays? Check Out These Money-Saving Travel Tips

The holiday season is just around the corner, and many of us are looking forward to fun festivities with family and friends. But if you're visiting long-distance loved ones for the holidays, you're probably wondering how to save money on travel expenses.

While the cost of travel tends to increase during this time of year, it's possible to go “home for the holidays" on a limited budget. Best of all, by spending less on travel and lodging, you'll have more for gifts and activities once you reach your destination.

This holiday season, take control of your travel expenses and save money with these helpful travel tips.

Plan in advance to keep expenses in line

Planning ahead is the key to saving money, and now is the time—before the holidays are officially here—to create your budget for the season. Along with categories for gifts,  food and decor be sure to include travel costs in your holiday budget. Examples of travel-related expenses include airfare or gas, baggage fees, airport or hotel parking, rental car fees, tolls and lodging.

Eliminate gift shipping costs

One way to reduce the weight of your suitcases (and potentially save money on baggage fees) is to ship gifts to your final destination before you arrive. If you take this route, be prepared to budget for shipping costs. Some shipping services add surcharges during the peak holiday delivery season. If you're not careful, shipping could cost you more than the price of the gift itself! One way to avoid the holiday shipping surcharge is to purchase gifts from online retailers and ship them directly to your destination. Many online retailers offer free or low-cost shipping, and some even include free gift wrapping!

Another way to avoid the shipping challenge is by giving gift cards. Gift cards can be purchased for just about anything, from local restaurants to specialty retailers to national chains. You can even give digital gift cards, which are typically sent via email.

Save money on sky-high air travel costs

It's no secret that the cost of airfare surges during the busy holiday travel season. While there's no consensus on the best time to purchase airline tickets, the best advice is to buy well in advance.

Start looking at flights as soon as you decide you're going to fly home for the holidays. Experts suggest buying at least 21 days prior to your trip. Another tip is to book flights for Tuesdays or Wednesdays, which are the least traveled days. Try to avoid Fridays and Sundays, which tend to be busier and more expensive days for flying.

If you have some flexibility, you can often get rock-bottom deals by choosing longer durations, indirect flights and off-times, like “red-eye" overnight flights. Some people even choose to travel after the holidays—such as the days between Christmas and New Year's Eve—to save on airfare. You can also save money by creating your own itinerary, which may include multiple one-way flights, airlines and airports. It's a good idea to use a flight-tracking service, such as Hopper or Google Flights, to keep an eye on ticket prices before booking your trip. 

Put the brakes on car-travel expenses

Long trips can take a toll on your vehicle and rack up the mileage. Depending on the condition of your vehicle, you may decide that renting a car for your holiday travel is the better option.

If you decide to rent a car for holiday travel, compare rental companies, not only for their rates but also their fine print. Just like airlines, rental car companies will sometimes lure customers in with an attractive price, then tack on extra fees upon sign-in. Make sure to review the terms carefully before booking your rental car.

If you want to save money, be sure to ask about discount programs.  Some car rentals will give discounted rates for AAA and AARP members. You can also save a little extra by saying no to options like refueling and luxury car upgrades. Finally, be sure the gas tank reads “full" when you return the rental car and keep your gas station receipt to avoid being charged a premium for fuel.

Get lodging for less

Lodging is another travel expense that can take a bite out of your holiday budget. Luckily, you can save money by booking a hotel well in advance. You can compare hotel prices using third-party websites, but you may be able to negotiate a better room rate when you deal with hotels directly.

If you're willing to take a risk and wait to book a hotel room, apps like HotelTonight can help you find last-minute deals on empty rooms. You can even book up to a week in advance and still score a reasonable price using this app.

Ready for something a little different? Try renting a room or entire house with sites like Airbnb, VRBO or HomeAway. An added bonus: With a kitchen, you can cook up quick meals or snacks and save money on food expenses.

Now that you've picked up some good ideas on how to save money during the holidays, it's time to make your budget and start planning your trip. By following these budget-friendly travel tips, you can enjoy a happy holiday season with more money in your pocket!

At Wright-Patt Credit Union, we want to help you Save Better, Borrow Smarter and Learn a Lot during the holiday season and all year round! For more great budgeting tips and tools, visit our online Education Center, where you'll find interactive learning modules, helpful videos and more!