How to Make Holiday Airfare as Wallet-Friendly as Possible

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Holiday travel is costly for solo trips and even more expensive for those heading out with spouses, children, and grandparents. Here are some tips to save money on winter holiday vacations.

Track airline prices

Haven’t committed to your trip yet because you’re hoping for cheaper airfare? Then sign-up with apps and services that track the price of the flight you’re considering. Skyscanner, Hopper, FareCompare, and other services will deliver email alerts to tell you when the fare changes and when they think you should book. Unlike Thanksgiving travel, Christmas airfares tend to rise if you wait to book flights, according to Hopper.

Consider a smaller airport

Regional airports often have lower prices on airline tickets than the big city airport. Depending upon where you live and how many in your family are traveling, you could save significant money by landing at a regional airport. Also, smaller airports mean fewer crowds, easier parking, and shorter check-in and security lines than at major airports.

Travel on less busy days

Avoid the crowds flying on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and on December 24. Instead, consider flying on Thanksgiving and Christmas days, especially when a quick flight can get you to your relatives’ house in time for dinner.

Compare fees for checked luggage

Southwest Airlines is unique: The airline waives fees for the first two pieces of checked luggage. Most other airlines charge $25 per person for the first checked bag and $35 for the second bag, each way. The added cost comes to $60 per person each way or $120 roundtrip. Cost to check luggage for a family of four hovers in the $480 range, or near the price of another roundtrip ticket. TripAdvisor features a handy list of fees.

Use credit cards that cover bag fees

Fly American Airlines and book tickets with a Citi Aadvantage card and wave goodbye to fees for the first checked bag for you and up to four other people traveling with you. With a United MileagePlus Chase car, the card holder and one companion can each check one bag for free. Book a flight with a Delta SkyMiles credit card and the cardholder and up to eight other people in the same reservation can check one bag for free.

Plot how you can use frequent flyer points for next year’s travel

It’s harder and harder to use frequent flyer miles. Airlines limit seats, extend blackout dates, and devalue points which means more miles are needed for fewer benefits. Nonetheless, if you’re hoping to gift your family with a dream trip to Botswana, the Galapagos, or even to Hawaii for the winter holidays 2017, plan now for next year. Most airlines allow you to book frequent flyer seats up to 11 months in advance. Figure out when next December’s Christmas blackout dates start, plan to takeoff one day before, and land one day after the blackout ends. Then go online or call the airline at 12:05 a.m. 11 months ahead. Some airlines may use Central or Mountain Time so factor that in to your booking window. Be persistent. The Points Guy offers advice on how to maximize your mileage points.