How to Save on Holiday Season Travel
Is the Canadian winter starting to get to you before it has even officially started? Are you tired of waking up in the dark and leaving work in the dark? Is it time to shake up your daily routine? It’s likely that a break from the everyday – perhaps on a sun-soaked island – is just what you need, but whether you can afford it or not is another question.
There are a number of ways to trim the costs and stick to a reasonable budget if you plan on traveling in and around the holiday season – from accumulating points on your credit card to put towards flights, to subscribing for email alerts from your favourite discount travel sites. Here’s what to keep in mind when planning a winter escape to celebrate the season without going into debt:
Look for Last-Minute Discounts
If you’ve waited this long to book a trip but still hoping to leave within the next few weeks, then you’re likely comfortable with spontaneity. In order to take advantage of the best last-minute deals, you have to be flexible.
First, decide on a window of time – perhaps a four-week period – within which you and your family are available to travel. If you have a flexible work schedule and don’t have children who are returning to school, you don’t necessarily need to leave on Christmas Eve or return on January 1st. In fact, some of the best deals on sunny destinations can be found in early January. Also, don’t limit yourself to only leaving on weekends. Booking a midweek departure date can often be cheaper.
Next, sign up for email offers from travel websites that will keep you in the loop about last-minute deals. Look at resources like cheapflights.ca, redtag.ca, selloffvacations.com or other popular travel booking sites like Expedia.ca, kayak.com and trivago.ca that allow you to search for getaways at a discounted price. Many of these websites also have mobile phone apps – and sometimes booking through an app can result in additional savings. But be weary of booking through sites and apps that look fishy or have not yet been rated.
The day of the week that you actually book your trip also matters. Many travel websites will advertise their best deals on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when consumers tend to be the least active on their sites. On weekends, activity picks up and so do rates.
Tip: Remember to always go through the fine print in detail prior to booking to check for exclusions, extra fees or anything that appears to be suspicious. Also check whether flights and vacation packages are offered in Canadian or US dollars. This is a mistake I admit to making: when booking an upcoming trip, I assumed the prices were in Canadian dollars, and then opened my credit card bill to find a charge more than $500 higher than what was printed on my itinerary. Be vigilant and double check the currency each time you open a new webpage, as this can change every time you open your browser.
It Doesn’t Have to Be a Sun Destination
All-inclusive vacations on island destinations are all the rage at this time of year, but getting away from home doesn’t necessarily have to involve bathing suits and piña coladas. Perhaps you’re more about exploring cities than relaxing by the ocean. Maybe weather is not a deciding factor in where you choose to get away. In that case, destinations in Europe can be much more affordable at this time of year because it’s not high season. London, Paris or Barcelona are good choices, as well as Dublin or Edinburgh – all of which experience little to no snow at all.
One way to really save is to stay within Canada’s borders and explore parts of the country you’re never seen before. The Loonie is once again on the decline, meaning you’ll get some of the best value for your dollar here at home. If flying is too expensive, but you’re unsure about driving at this time of year because of snow and ice, Via Rail services many popular destinations within Canada. Still not sold on staying home? A trip to Vancouver will still get you out of the snow and into milder temperatures. It’s not beach weather – but it likely won’t result in frostbite neither.
Airbnb or Bust
Over the past few years, Airbnb and similar home-sharing platforms have significantly grown in popularity. What makes it so attractive is that it tends to be more affordable and also immerses you in the local culture more than staying at a chain accommodation. However, prices for Airbnb rentals are completely up to each individual homeowner, and at this time of year, nightly rates might be bumped up. It’s important to do your research and compare a number of different homes before making your choice.
Another good – and more affordable – option is doing a home exchange on sites such as HomeExchange.com or intervac.ca, provided you are open to sharing your home as well. These sites do charge fees to list your home, but they are minimal in comparison to what you pay at hotels or Airbnb-listed properties.
Use Your Cards Wisely
Are you aware of all the perks that come with your credit card? From cash back, to points and reward miles, there are a number of features that can help you save on your holiday season travel. If you’re not a member of a loyalty program, you can check out some of RateSupermarket.ca’s top picks for travel rewards cards as well as our 2016 Best of Finance Award winners to see which credit cards best fit your lifestyle and budget. Depending on the card, you can put your points or miles towards flights, hotels, cruises or full holiday packages. Keep in mind, however, that some loyalty programs may have blackout dates that apply to the holiday season.
Many credit cards also come with built in travel insurance. Check your card’s policy for features such as travel emergency medical or accident coverage, trip cancellation or interruption, flight delay, baggage delay or loss, car rental collision and travel assistance. Some cards also provide hotel or motel burglary insurance or room assurance. While you should always purchase travel insurance when going on vacation, having these features on your credit card means you still have a bit of coverage – and that in itself can save you hundreds of dollars.
Almost On Your Way!
Here are some final quick tips to help you save on your holiday journey:
- Avoid overweight baggage fees by not over-packing your checked suitcases and weighing your bag at home. You can also evade possible checked bag fees by condensing the amount you bring with you to just a carry-on bag.
- Take a cab, public transportation or ask a friend to drive you to the airport. Airport parking fees can be fairly steep.
- Arrive early. Missing your flight is not only stressful, but it could possibly result in you having to pay extra for a later departure.
- If you’re traveling by car, bus or train, pack a bag full of sandwiches or snacks. This will save you the cost of having to stop at restaurants or buying overpriced meals on board.
Yes, the holiday season can be the most expensive time of the year to travel, amongst many other things. But keep a budget in mind, stick to it, search for deals and look to your credit cards, and you’ll find yourself feeling much more relaxed as you welcome in 2017!