Planning holiday travel can be a major headache, from choosing a flight to finding the best rental car price. Here are some tips from our editors to help you prepare for a smoother, more hassle-free holiday trip. Do you have any other tips? Comment on this story to share your advice.
When to Go
Traveling on the actual holiday (e.g., Thanksgiving, Christmas, though not any of the "eves") can save money and ease holiday stress—the maddest part of the rush is over; planes, trains, and buses aren’t usually full; and roads aren’t generally crowded.
If you’re flying from the east coast to the west, an early departure puts you on the ground with the better part of the day left to celebrate. It can also be a lot more relaxed if your family can agree to a delayed holiday celebration.
If you are splitting your holiday time between households, driving (or taking the guaranteed-to-be-nearly-empty bus) early Christmas morning is a completely hassle-free way to manage it; you’ll make it to their destination just as the breakfast rolls come out of the oven.
If you’re traveling to Europe, try to fly on December 25, 26, 27, or New Years Eve to beat the crowds and pressure. If you are flying into an international city on New Year’s Eve, however, do check out airport transfers. It’s a good day to fly, but once you get to your destination there may be issues. Things may be running on a different schedule and not accommodate your needs; it may be harder or more expensive to get a cab. So check this out ahead. On the return end, there can be busier or pricier flights if you have to return right after New Year’s. If you can extend your stay a bit, prices might be lower.
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If you’re going to be away from home on December 25, check out what’s open. In London, for example, a lot of restaurants are closed. And sometimes you get lucky and there are amazing things that stay open (like Longwood Garden near Philadelphia being open on Christmas day). So if you need to be anywhere else than home, do some homework.
Search for flexible dates and allow for all airports in your area—often you can get a cheaper flight from or to a more distant airport (like Ft. Lauderdale instead of Miami or Newark instead of La Guardia) but then also factor in how much it’s going to cost to get there. It may not be worth it if you’ll spend $100 in cabs.
Remember when booking your flight that really cheap no-frills airlines will charge for a seat, baggage, carry-ons, and even water, so be sure to add in the hidden fees when you are comparing prices. Kayak.com has an easy-to-use chart of airline fees.
Always look for car rental coupons online (google “Avis promo code” or “Avis coupon code”) and check out aggregators like Carrentalexpress, Carrentals.com, Priceline, Hotwire, Kayak, or Sidestep. There are usually discounts for a week or weekend car rental.
Research what your car insurance will and won’t cover and decide whether you’ll accept the extra insurance ahead of time before the rental agencies give you their sales pitch.
If taxis from the airport and to a rental agency are cheap (or you can have a family member pick you up and drive you to the rental place), you can often get a far better deal outside of the airport.
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