Thanks to Guest Author, Kelly Spors, a personal finance and small business expert and former Wall Street Journal reporter, for these tips on saving money on holiday travels. Whether you’re going somewhere far away, or plan to have lots of “staycation adventures” in your own town, these are great ideas for how to keep a lid on expenses, along with tips on apps to make the process as easy as a tap on your Smartphone. – Amy
Photo of Kelly Spors, Guest Author
With gas regular unleaded gas prices already topping, or close to topping, $4 a gallon in many places, even road trips can start to feel pricey. How can you shave the costs on holiday trips? Here are some tips.
Lighten up on gas. While driving is certainly cheaper than flying, gas can still guzzle up quite a bit of money. But some smartphone apps and web sites can ease the pain. GasBuddy.com and GasPriceWatch.com let you compare gas prices at the stations nearest you, wherever you happen to be. GasBuddy even offers a mobile app, so you can quickly compare local prices from the road, as well as a trip calculator that lets you tally total gas costs for a trip based on your auto’s fuel mileage.
Find the best air deals. If you need to fly to your holiday destination, shop smartly. Landing low-cost airfares has become something of a sport, and holiday fares are projected to be 3% higher in 2012 compared with 2011. Many sites, including Kayak.com and OneTravel, let you conveniently search multiple airlines’ fares at once. But those fares are probably no different than if you checked each site individually. The real trick to airfares is knowing when to shop. Studies have shown that the best time of the week to buy airfares is Tuesday afternoon into Wednesday midday. Weekends are most expensive. But it can also help to know how far in advance to book. Bing Travel offers a “Price Predictor” feature that forecasts whether a particular route’s airfares will go up, down or stay the same in coming days and weeks. Moreover, flying to your destination on Wednesdays, Tuesdays and Saturdays is typically cheaper than flying on Fridays and Sundays. (Check out Priceline.com’s “Best Days to Fly for the Holidays!” feature.)
Look for low-cost lodging. Need to book a hotel? Sites such as Priceline.com, BookingBuddy.com or Hotwire.com, offer some nice discounts off regular rates. But also consider vacation rentals. Especially for families with four or more people, it can be more affordable (and comfortable) to rent a condo or a house. Plus, this allows you to save on meals out by cooking in a kitchen during your trip. Look at HomeAway.com, VRBO.com, CyberRentals.com or VacationRentals.com.
Scour “daily deals”. With the Groupon-era upon us, you can find many travel-related deals these days on “deals” sites that send out deals via email – from hotels to attractions to restaurants. Consider signing up for deal notices in your holiday destination location – including LivingSocial, Yipit and Groupon – a couple months in advance of your trip and checking your emails daily to see if there are any you can claim.
With a little planning and research, holiday travel doesn’t need to bust your wallet.
Author Bio: Kelly Spors writes for the leading Roth IRA and online retirement planning resource, RothIRA.com. She is a former Wall Street Journal reporter who has also written for The New York Times, Entrepreneur magazine, SmallBizTrends.com and Yahoo!. Kelly specializes in personal finance and small business issues.
Editor’s Note: I love Kelly’s ideas! The ideas on how to game the airfare fluctuations are especially helpful. We always have the most leisure time on weekends to take care of non-work tasks, but as Kelly points out, airfares are highest when booked on the weekends. We’ve used Kayak.com quite a bit, and it’s a great, quick way to compare lots of air travel options in one sitting. What ideas do you have to save money on holiday travel? Add a comment to this post.