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10 Simple Ways to Save Money on Holiday Travel

Photograph by Twenty20

Family holiday travel has a bad rep for being stressful, frustrating and expensive. OK, so we'll agree with you about the stress and frustration, but holiday travel doesn't have to break the bank—especially if you start planning now.

No, really, it's not too early to start thinking about planning your seasonal getaway within your budget. In fact, now is the perfect time to start.

Here are our top tips for a very merry travel season:

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1. Book now

The earlier you can solidify your travel plans, the better. Book accommodations, reserve plane tickets and rent a car now, because every day you wait could potentially cost you. Historically, prices slowly start inching up in September. No, you're not going to wait out a better rate.

2. Continue to watch prices

That said, even if you've already booked holiday travel, it doesn't hurt to keep an eye on prices. Federal rules mandate that you can change or cancel flights without penalty within 24 hours of booking. Beyond that window, some airlines and hotels will provide a refund or travel credit if the price falls below what you paid for the same product or service. It's worth a shot.

3. Pack sparingly

If you already know that you'll be coming home with gifts from family and friends, figure that potential weight into your initial packing plans. Pack light and leave room in check-on baggage so you won't exceed weight restrictions coming home (and incur extra fees) or be forced to buy a new piece of luggage while you're away from home.

4. Look into different transportation options

'Tis the season to get creative about how you're going to reach your destination. Instead of booking a flight, look into taking the train. If you're planning on driving, perhaps you can pick up other family members along the way for a ride share option. Alternatively, consider flying into one city and out of another, or using one form of transportation to reach your destination and another to get back home.

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5. Fly on the holiday—except for this year

Most people want to arrive at their destination prior to the actual holiday, which means flying on the holiday itself tends to be cheaper than the days immediately prior to or following a holiday.

However, this isn't always the case, especially when the holidays fall on busy travel days. This year, for example, both Christmas and New Year's Day fall on Fridays, so traveling on a low-cost day (see more in the tip below) such as the Wednesday before or after these holidays may be a better option.

6. Travel on low-cost days

Generally speaking, flights are less expensive on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturday afternoons, because they are less popular. While there are exceptions to every rule, if your plans are somewhat flexible, avoid the most popular travel times in order to snag better prices.

7. Hit the road in the morning

In order to extend holiday getaways as long as possible, many people leave for their trips right after work and return on the very last afternoon or evening possible. This means the roads can be a nightmare during that time of day, and you'll spend more money on gas just sitting in traffic. Plan for early departures for a quicker, easier and less expensive drive.

8. Ask about discounts

When making reservations for your holiday travels, look into discounts that may be available for your family. Ask about cheaper rates for active or retired military personnel, senior citizens, teachers, AAA members and other similar memberships. They might not be much, but when added together, you can save a hefty chunk of change.

9. Travel between holidays

If your family isn't set on being somewhere specific for the holidays, book your trip in early December between Thanksgiving and Christmas, or in late January/early February. These times actually tend to be in between the busy seasons for beach resort destinations, and snow is likely in great condition at ski resorts as well—but hardly anyone is there. As a result, there are often travel deals for those willing to take their winter holiday travels at a slightly unconventional time.

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10. Ship gifts

Save money and maintain your sanity by shipping gifts ahead of time, if you're going to be using mass transportation for your travels. Everything will be crowded, so the amount of luggage you can carry on a flight may be restricted. It's just not worth the stress—or extra expense—of leaving your gifts to a game of check-in roulette.

Be mindful, however, that the postal service is slammed during the holiday season as well, so ship gifts a few weeks in advance. Alternatively, you could shop for presents once you reach your destination.

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