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How to save money on winter travel

No matter where you’re going this holiday season, we’ve got the experts’ advice on ways to save

Young Asian toddle girl playing in a forest full of snow in winter.

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The holidays are almost here — which means it’s time to think about booking your annual trip to visit family (or to get away from family). It might even be time to consider how you and your family want to spend Spring Break. Most importantly, it’s time to think about how to get your family where you want to go without spending more money than you can afford.

We’ve already written about how to make the holidays less hard. Now we’re going to share a few expert-approved tips on how to save money on winter travel — to reduce the cost of a flight, to find somewhere affordable to stay, and more.

Whether you’re visiting relatives or taking a much-needed vacation, here’s how to get the most out of your trip — without burdening your family’s holiday season with stress, jet lag or credit card debt.

In this article:

Be flexible with your dates

Just because the holidays fall on certain calendar dates doesn’t mean you have to celebrate them on those exact days.

By postponing your holiday travel until after the holidays are over — or booking flights on less-popular travel days such as Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve — you can save money, save time and reduce some of the stress associated with crowded airports and last-minute delays. (And if you have kids with long winter breaks, you might also save money by not booking them at daycare or camp.)

“A lot of people travel for the holidays in the winter,” explains Tykesha Burton, a travel journalist who’s visited all seven continents and shares family travel advice at MommaWanderlust. “I’ve saved loads of money by booking my family’s flights and lodging a week after the holiday rush.”

If you’re taking a vacation this winter, you can also take advantage of off-peak times — but keep in mind that the best deals often go to the people who make the quickest bookings. If you find a low-cost flight at midnight on Christmas Eve, for example, grab it while you have the chance. Otherwise, someone else will.

“Book your winter vacation sooner than later,” advises Lawrence Delva-Gonzalez, a financial literacy educator who runs The Neighborhood Finance Guy. This applies not only to your holiday travel, but also to any trips you might be planning to take in January or February. You may even want to spend some time pricing Spring Break travel options — and booking the best opportunities before they disappear. “Check for Black Friday deals and book before Christmas.”

Be flexible with your location

Some of us already know where we’re going this holiday season — to visit the grandparents, for example, or to take the kids on their annual trip to Disneyland or a ski resort. Other people may have the option of choosing between various locations, which may give you the opportunity to save money.

Start by asking yourself what you might need to buy for your trip — and whether you can avoid those purchases by choosing a different destination. Delva-Gonzalez advises families to think carefully before traveling from a warm climate to a colder one.

“Dreams of a blanket of snow come with an expensive winter gear price tag,” he explains. Not only will you have to outfit everyone in your household with warm winter clothing, but you may also have to pay extra to pack it. “There is no way you can fit three fleeces, an overcoat, a sweater, gloves and a scarf in your overstuffed carry-on. Baggage fees can seriously add up for a family.”

If you travel from a colder area to a warmer one, you and your family might be able to get by with clothing you already own — and you could end up checking fewer bags. Delva-Gonzalez suggests looking for low-cost vacation destinations that offer a lot of sun. That way, you can pack lightly and spend a lot of time outdoors, taking advantage of parks and other free public resources.

If you’re traveling outside of your current time zone, use an app like Timeshifter to avoid the discomfort of jet lag and spend more time enjoying your trip. Haven Life Plus, a bonus rider available to eligible Haven Term policyholders, offers an unlimited Timeshifter jet lag plan at no cost — which is one more way to save money as you travel.

Book vacation rentals — and rent your gear, too

Some of us will be spending the holidays in our childhood bedrooms. Others of us — especially those of us going on vacation this holiday season — will need to find our families an affordable and comfortable place to sleep.

“My number one cost-saving travel tip, no matter the season, is to stay in a vacation rental instead of a hotel,” says Burton. “Vacation rentals are usually equipped with full kitchens, allowing you and your family to prepare meals instead of eating out, which is a considerable saving” versus getting a hotel room.

The other advantage of vacation rentals is that they often offer a lot of space. Many vacation rentals have enough beds — and bedrooms — for two or more families to sleep comfortably. “Vacation rentals are a great way to cut costs if you split the bill when traveling with a large group,” Burton explains. Whether you’re packing a vacation home with siblings and cousins or using your vacation to connect with old friends, you have the opportunity to share both the space and the expense.

On the subject of rentals, both Burton and Delva-Gonzalez stressed the importance of renting any gear you might need on your travels. “Rent the scuba, ski or camping gear,” Delva-Gonzalez told us. “It’s cheaper than lugging it around.”

Book trips that earn rewards

When people book holiday travel, they often pull out their credit cards — but they don’t always check to see whether their credit cards offer any money-saving travel rewards.

There are many ways to use credit cards to save money on travel. Many airline credit cards, for example, offer at least one free checked bag per flight — as well as discounts on in-flight purchases. Other credit cards allow you to redeem your points or miles for low-cost deals on flights, hotels or all-inclusive trips. Your card might offer additional travel perks such as trip insurance, rental car insurance (handy for a road trip), airport lounge access or the opportunity to earn free upgrades.

“The American Express Platinum Card has some hotel perks that typically go unnoticed,” explains Delva-Gonzalez — but you don’t have to go platinum to take advantage of credit card rewards. If you open a new credit card right before you book your holiday travel, for example, you could put your credit card sign-up bonus — which could be worth between $200 and $1,200, depending on the card — toward the cost of flights and hotels.

Keep in mind that any purchase you make on credit will need to be paid off — and unless you make a travel budget that allows you to pay off your credit card balances in full, you could end the holidays with more credit card debt than you bargained for. That’s not a holiday gift anyone would ask for.

Treating yourself to some affordable relaxation, however, is a great way to end this time of year on the right note.

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About Nicole Dieker

Nicole Dieker has been a full-time freelance writer since 2012, with a focus on personal finance and habit formation. In addition to Haven Life, her work regularly appears at Lifehacker, Bankrate, CreditCards.com, and Vox. Dieker spent five years as a writer and editor for The Billfold, a personal finance blog where people had honest conversations about money, and is the author of Frugal and the Beast: And Other Financial Fairy Tales.

Read more by Nicole Dieker

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Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.

Haven Life is not authorized to give tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Individuals are encouraged to seed advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

Our disclosures

Haven Term is a Term Life Insurance Policy (DTC and ICC17DTC in certain states, including NC) issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111-0001 and offered exclusively through Haven Life Insurance Agency, LLC. In NY, Haven Term is DTC-NY 1017. In CA, Haven Term is DTC-CA 042017. Haven Term Simplified is a Simplified Issue Term Life Insurance Policy (ICC19PCM-SI 0819 in certain states, including NC) issued by the C.M. Life Insurance Company, Enfield, CT 06082. Policy and rider form numbers and features may vary by state and may not be available in all states. Our Agency license number in California is OK71922 and in Arkansas 100139527.

MassMutual is rated by A.M. Best Company as A++ (Superior; Top category of 15). The rating is as of Aril 1, 2020 and is subject to change. MassMutual has received different ratings from other rating agencies.

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