Traveling for the holidays, especially with the family in tow, can be quite pricey. But, there are many ways to shave down the cost of a trip whether it is reducing the airfare, saving money on enroute expenses or improving the trip by benefits that you can earn via airline or hotel elite status. The way you pay for a trip can also provide access to savings, believe it or not. Many credit cards come with a host of perks or cash-back offers. Even using the receipts from things you buy before or during a trip to scan via the Fetch app can save you money. Here are 9 ways to save money on holiday trips and become a savvier traveler along the way.
Avoid checking a bag
Unless you have a credit card, airline elite status or are flying on a ticket that already includes a checked bag, you’ll have to pay hefty fees to check one. Do you really want to pay all that extra cash to bring along three pairs of shoes? The only U.S. carrier that does not charge for checked bags on all fares is Southwest Airlines. For everyone else, you’ll have to pay to bring along a large or heavy bag. Don’t forget, you’ll have to pay for that same checked bag in both directions unless you plan to leave one behind (perhaps it was filled with holiday presents, after all).
If you must check a bag, review the airline’s website since many carriers offer a discount for paying for a bag in advance rather than at the airport ticket counter. Even better, if traveling with holiday gifts, consider shipping them directly to your destination and wrapping them when you get there. You can travel lighter and not worry about a bag full of presents getting lost or delayed.
Visit the grocery store first
This may seem like an unlikely stop, but stocking up on snacks and even light meals at the grocery store before a trip can save a bundle. Despite many airports claiming they offer street pricing within the terminal, they are still way overpriced. You can easily spend an extra $50 buying sandwiches and bottled water for a family of four in no time. A visit to the grocery store can yield a lot more bang for the buck then shopping at the airport.
While you’re at it, use some of the money you’ll save to pick up some goodies for the flight crew on your next flight. Write them a friendly note and hand it to them when you board the plane. You’ll make their day, and they may even take extra good care of you on the flight.
Don’t forget to save your grocery receipt so that you can scan it on the Fetch app. Fetch provides cash back in the form of gift cards to app users that they can redeem later at popular stores, many of which can provide savings for holiday travel (like gas or restaurant gift cards).
Take advantage of loyalty programs
It pays off to be a member of loyalty programs (almost all of them are free to join). You can earn miles and points for the money you spend toward flying, staying in hotels or renting cars. Then, you can redeem these for free travel in the future. By staying loyal to one travel brand, you can also potentially earn elite status. This can lead to complimentary upgrades or extra-legroom seats on flights, better rooms or even suites in hotels, perks like free checked bags on flights or breakfast at a hotel, and overall better treatment when traveling.
Even those who simply sign up for the program can benefit from being a member. For example, American Airlines gives all members of its AAdvantage program (even those without status) priority boarding over non-members. This can make a big difference when traveling with carry-on bags because you will board before everyone else and find space for your bag rather than having to check it at the gate. Those that join hotel loyalty programs receive discounts when booking directly with a hotel’s reservation channels.
Use the right credit card
The same theory around loyalty programs from airlines and hotels applies to credit cards. Many of the top credit cards include a slew of travel-related perks like airport lounge access, which can save on the cost of food and drinks while in the airport. Others come with rebates for TSA PreCheck, CLEAR or Global Entry applications. These have the potential to save time when passing through the airport as well as saving cash since you don’t have to pay for them out of pocket.
Other perks of some airline credit cards include boarding earlier (helpful in finding space for carry-on bags) and free checked bags (in case they are too big or heavy to bring aboard). You can also earn bonus miles or points from airline or hotel co-branded cards when you use them to pay for travel purchases. This can add up to a healthy stash of miles and points that you can then redeem in the future for holiday travel.
Another option is to use a cash-back card. These provide a percentage of everything back in the form of a credit to your bill. It can be another great way to save cash on everything you purchase, whether it is travel-related or not.
Scan retail receipts
The Fetch app allows people to scan their retail receipts to earn cash back in the form of gift cards that they can redeem later at their favorite restaurants, stores and gas stations among other brands. It’s a great (and easy) way to save money on your holiday travel. It only takes a few seconds to scan each receipt. If you do this for a few minutes each week, you can be on your way to great savings when the holidays roll around.
Be flexible with travel dates and times
Consider traveling on less busy days. For example, flying on the holiday itself (like Thanksgiving or Christmas) can prove much cheaper than a few days before or after when everyone else wants to travel. It can also be less of a hassle since you avoid the crowds. Another option is early-morning flights. While not as enticing, they are the least likely to get delayed since there has not been the ripple effect of a day’s weather issues or mechanical delays. They can also be cheaper. The same goes for red-eye flights.
Consider alternate airports
The airport closest to your home or destination may not always be the cheapest. It can pay off to look into nearby airports to see if the savings are worth it. Of course, this means you would have farther to drive to reach the airport, and parking there may be pricier. But, if it means saving more than flying from your home airport, it might be worth it.
An important thing to consider is that you don’t have to fly into or out of the same airport. For example, if you live in central New Jersey, you can fly out of Newark and return to Philadelphia (as long as you don’t leave your car at the airport). Fares can vary in each market, and this can be a solid way to look for savings.
Visit multiple websites before clicking purchase
Another important thing to remember when booking airfare is that not all airline fares are displayed equally. For example, airlines like Southwest or Allegiant often don’t appear in the same search engines like Orbitz or Expedia with other airlines. You have to navigate to those airline websites directly to determine if those carriers offer more savings for your itinerary.
Buy one-way tickets
Not all airlines are eligible to be reserved on the same ticket. An example of this is American and Delta. This means that search engines will not return prices that include American and Delta together (either connecting flights to one another or out on one carrier and back on another). This is why booking one-way tickets separately can save a bundle. You may be able to find cheaper airfare on American in one direction and Delta on the other (or vice versa). These would not necessarily appear if doing a search for roundtrip flights.
With a bit of extra time and effort, you can accrue a nice chunk of savings for your holiday travels. Use the money you save to treat yourself on your trip or to start saving for next year.
Ramsey Qubein is a freelance travel journalist covering hotels, cruises, airlines, and loyalty programs from around the globe. He's a contributor to NerdWallet, Forbes, Fortune and more.