By Samuel Greengard | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor
6 Min Read | December 20, 2019 in Money
Specialized travel sites and search tools can be especially useful for last-minute holiday travel because they often access flights and rooms not offered by the regular airline and travel websites.
Look for packages and combination deals that offer better pricing and reduce your stress level for booking things.
Use travel points credit cards or look for special deals that allow you to combine points or miles with dollars.
Booking holiday travel at the last minute can fray your nerves and dent your finances. Flights may be booked, preferred hotels filled, and rental cars scarce. But putting together your holiday journey doesn’t have to be daunting.
If you’re faced with last minute holiday travel, these eight hacks may help you get to your destination without breaking the bank. In fact, you could consider these strategies year-round.
Unlock last-minute holiday travel bargains through travel sites and travel apps that specialize in discounts. For example, Expedia.com has a Last-Minute Deals page that displays flight, hotel and packages—sometimes at 50% or more off. Other travel sites offer special member discounts and deals as well.1 You can look for flight deals at sites such as Skyscanner.com and apps like GTFO Flights2 and Last Minute Flight Booking App.3 Likewise, HotelTonight,4 SecretEscapes5 and Priceline6 for rooms.
Like a ninja, keep your holiday travel searches private—airlines will increase the price if you repeatedly search a route.7 Use incognito or private mode. And you can use specialized travel search tools to check budget air carriers that aren’t always visible at major travel sites. CheapOAir8 is a good example, and you also can go directly to a budget airline’s website (ThriftyNomad has an extensive linked list9 ). To potentially save more, try pricing at the airline’s native country site. It may prove cheaper than the U.S. site.10 Google Trips,11 Google Flights,12 and the Bing Travel Guide13 can help you explore a wider array of holiday travel options.
Most people limit their holiday travel and other last-minute searches to round trip tickets on one carrier. But round trips aren’t always the cheapest way to fly. In some cases, depending on the flight or route, one-way tickets are the way to go. You may also benefit by using two or more airlines for separate one-way tickets and booking connecting flights separately.14 If your holiday travel plans are international, Kiwi.com is especially adept at assembling itineraries with multiple airlines.15
Online searches are a game changer for booking planes, trains and automobiles. But humans remain a valuable option, particularly when you’re booking holiday travel at the last moment. Services such as Skylark16 and AirTreks17 specialize in finding the best routes at the best prices. They’re especially adept if you have complicated international holiday travel plans. These services sometimes have access to flight information that doesn’t appear at airline websites and major travel sites.
E-mail alerts and notifications from your preferred airlines, cruise lines or hotel chains can alert you to bargains. This approach is especially valuable if you’re flexible about travel dates and you can avoid peak days right before and after December 25, New Year’s Day, or another major holiday. Check sites like ExpertFlyer.com18 and Airfarewatchdog19, which deliver news about flash sales.
If you have a travel points credit card, you could consider cashing in a reward for holiday travel at the credit card site instead of directly with the airline.20 It’s essentially the same process, but credit card sites typically can get seats with fewer or no blackout dates and restrictions, because the airline considers them paying customers.21 You can use the same approach to secure a room with a hotel credit card. Another strategy is to check a preferred airline to see if you can use some combination of frequent flyer miles and dollars for a holiday travel ticket.
Flights aren’t the only way to go for holiday travel. Especially if you’re going a relatively short distance, trains can offer lower prices for the same trip. Bankrate notes you can save $100 getting from New York to Boston that way.22 And your savings will grow if you arrive at a downtown train station rather than a faraway airport that adds a long taxi ride. Likewise, car sharing services such as ZipCar23 and Car2Go24 can deliver savings over pricy rentals and taxis. And how about shipping your holiday packages ahead of time to avoid extra baggage fees?
Individual hotels often have some discretion with pricing—especially when they’re faced with rooms that won’t be occupied that night. When I needed a hotel room in Christchurch, New Zealand after a change in plans, I first checked online and then called the hotel directly (bypassing the tollfree reservations line). I was able to bargain for over $100 in savings from the published web price. This approach is particularly effective if you belong to the hotel’s loyalty program.
Last minute holiday travel bookings don’t have to break the bank and leave you frazzled. These eight hacks can help you trim costs and simplify your holiday travel—and at any time of the year, too.
1 “Expedia Last Minute Deals,” Expedia
3 Last Minute Flight Booking App, Travel Bookings LLC
7 “How to Book the Cheapest Possible Flight,” Thrifty Nomads
9 “How to Book the Cheapest Possible Flight,” Thrifty Nomads
10 “Hacks for Smarter Last-Minute Travel Planning,” Travel + Leisure
11 Google Trips
14 “How to Book the Cheapest Possible Flight,” Thrifty Nomads
20 “Hacks for Smarter Last-Minute Travel Planning,” Travel + Leisure
21 “How to Save Money on Holiday Travel,” MoneyUnder30
22 “10 Ways to Save on Holiday Travel,” Banknote