Holiday travel season usually mimics the peak summer travel season, which this year was very busy, so travelers should expect the same for the upcoming holiday season. With Thanksgiving Travel plans already in motion, have you considered the winter holiday season yet? Here’s some good advice:
When’s the best time to buy airline tickets for Christmas? Due to high demand, there simply are not any real airfare “deals” on the peak days around Christmas and New Year’s this year. Travelers who want the most convenient flights on their preferred airlines should book as soon as possible to get seats on those flights – otherwise they will likely be stuck paying the same high price for less desirable flights that depart super early or late, they’ll have to sit in those dreaded middle seats, or make several stops en route to their destinations.
Should I drive or fly this year? I always stick to the five hour rule: If you can drive to your destination in five hours or less, it’s likely smarter to hit the road instead of the skies during the holidays. This is especially true for families traveling together. Good news this year is that gasoline prices are at their lowest in many years—about $2.89 per gallon on average in the U.S. this week, down 32 cents from this time last year. One of the best new smartphone apps for driving trips is Waze, a GPS-based mapping tool that uses information provided by other drivers to help you avoid traffic, road hazards – and speed traps!
What are the best days for traveling this year? The good news about this year’s holiday season is that it is longer than usual, with Christmas and New Year’s falling on Thursday. The full season will be more than two weeks long, which means more wiggle room for travelers (compared to a season when Christmas and New Year’s both fall on say, Sunday, which makes for a much more compact, crowded and expensive season). Smart travelers will depart on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and return on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day to avoid the biggest crowds and snag the lowest fares.
Are there any alternatives or hidden secrets to getting good deals this year? If you have the flexibility to travel during the slowest timesof year, the so called “dead weeks” of early December and early January, you can save 50-70 percent on airfare or hotels. For example, airfares to Europe can be remarkably inexpensive during winter months. It’s also a good idea to check out airline or hotel social media streams on sites like Twitter or Facebook to look for short term, last minute sales.
Is now a good time to redeem points or miles for trips? It’s nearly impossible to use airline frequent flyer awards during the blacked out, heavily restricted peak holiday season. On the other hand, demand for hotels declines during holidays, which means that it’s a lot easier to redeem those hard-earned loyalty points.
What about airline baggage fees? If possible, avoid checking bags during the holidays; the risk of your bag getting lost and ruining your trip is just too high. Try to learn to live out of a carry-on. If you have too much for a carry on, ship your bags ahead of time, but do so at the “ground” rate at UPS, FedEx or the Postal Service. Shipping a 25 lb. bag via next-day or two-day express is just too expensive.
What’s a good way to avoid holiday travel stress? Always try to book nonstop flights, because you double your chances of a delay or cancellation with a one-stop flight, even though you might save a few bucks. Another stress-busting move: Consider staying over in a hotel when visiting families during the holidays. Rates at new hotels like a locally owned Best Western in or near suburban office parks hit annual lows during holidays (due to the lack of business travelers), and facilities are usually new and nice. Having your own space at a hotel is a big relief for both the traveler and the host during the stressful holidays.
Chris McGinnis is Best Western’s travel trends expert and business travel blogger on youmustbetrippin.com