2011-12-22 / Features

Six Strategies For Tranquil Holiday Travel

Traveling during the holiday season is a mixed blessing. School vacations and time off from work provide great opportunities to spend a “White Christmas” with faraway family and friends or sneak in an end-of-year getaway via “The Polar Express.” At the same time, holiday travel can be both expensive and stressful. While it’s all but impossible to avoid the costs and crowds completely, with these time-honored travel strategies, travelers can prevent “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and find yourself uttering, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Book now, go later. The first rule of thumb for holiday travel is to make travel plans as far in advance as possible. By booking months ahead of your departure date, you can lock in lower airfares and seat assignments. For Christmas travel, make every effort to purchase tickets by early October.

Go off-peak. Weekend travel, which often includes Fridays and Mondays, is almost always more expensive than travel during the week. If possible, schedule both departing and returning flights for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Timing is everything. Typically, there is less demand for the first and last flights of the day, which means less competition for seats and the possibility of lower fares. If you can fly on the big day itself, even better. While you may be able to snag great deals on Thanksgiving or Christmas day flights, January 1st tends to be a more popular travel day. Another option? Plan your trip for the week between Christmas and New Year’s, when many travelers have already settled in their destinations.

Be flexible. If you know you want to get away, but aren’t sure where to go, let availability and price be your guide. And don’t forget to check flights to and from alternate airports. For example, you may be able to save on a flight to San Francisco by flying into San Jose. And when heading to the New York City area, flights to La- Guardia and JFK might be less expensive than those bound for Newark.

Mix and match. Great deals can be had by using different carriers for incoming and outgoing flights or by booking two one-way flights rather than a roundtrip. By checking a variety of sites — including both individual airlines and aggregator sites such as kayak.com and bookingbuddy.com, which search several different travel sites simultaneously — you can rest assured that you got the best available prices and flights. In addition, by booking flights, hotels and rental cars through the same travel site, be it a single site or a travel aggregator, you may be able to score even better deals.

Don’t dodge the details. These days, airlines are once again charging passengers for a variety of items that were once included in their posted airfares. Be sure to note whether a published airfare includes all taxes and fees and check each carrier’s baggage policy. And when reviewing airfares, make sure that you are comparing “apples to apples.” In other words, be certain that the two airfares both include or exclude taxes, fees and baggage charges, snacks, and things like upgrade fees for additional legroom.

Do delay! Sometimes waiting until the eleventh hour isn’t such a bad idea, especially when last-minute fares can save you money or open the door to a spur-ofthe moment vacation.

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