How To, Planning

Getting Home for the Holidays on a Budget

You don’t need to be told that the holidays are stressful. You’re already feeling it, with the sounds of Christmas songs filling your ears even earlier this year than last. Still, one added piece of stress to your holiday schedule is traveling back home for the holidays. Spending the holidays alone is no fun for you or your family, but you don’t have to break the bank to get you and yours together for the winter holiday season.

Traveling on a budget for the holidays takes a little more finesse than other times of year. Last year set a new record for holiday airfare costs, according to The New York Times. Even though airline costs are high, that doesn’t mean you won’t find a way to get where you need to go for less.

Getting Cheap Flights

If you have to fly or just want to, consider the following advice from Fare Compare CEO Rick Seany before you buy a ticket:

-Tuesdays are the best day to buy a plane ticket because airlines begin sales on Monday. Thus, other airlines follow suit and price wars begin the next day.
-Early flights and overnight flights are cheapest.
-Airline seats on sale go quickly, so be prepared to swoop in when you get an alert that tickets have gone on sale.

Seany further identifies several impediments to getting the best deal on a flight. You have to work your airline ticket purchase around these hurdles to get the best deal:

-Staying over Saturday night will decrease the cost of your ticket.
-Buying your ticket at least two weeks in advance for most airlines, and one week in advance for others significantly decreases the cost.
-Avoiding blackout dates for sales, many of which fall around Christmas and Thanksgiving.

The last one is insurmountable for most holiday travelers. If you work remotely or via flex time, consider heading out early and coming home late. You can work from anywhere and you might appreciate a little extra time with the family.

Of course, buying your ticket as far in advance as possible is an easy and surefire way to save money. The old “wait until the last minute and score a super deal” trick probably won’t work around the holidays, and it’s certainly not an option for a family traveling together. Finally, if you are signed up to bargain fight websites like Expedia or Travelocity, always sign up for alerts for when tickets go on sale.

Alternatives to Flying

The train is about as expensive as flying and takes longer, so that’s out. Buses and driving, however, are in.

The bus isn’t the most luxurious way to travel, but riding the ‘hound sure is cheap. Get ready to take twice as long to get wherever you are going as if you’d drive yourself, though. Although, it is convenient to sit back with your iPod and a book while someone else gets you where you’re going. In many cities a crop of discount bus services have sprung up, making it very easy to get from one major city to another on a low budget.

Driving yourself is another no-fly option. If you’re the driving equivalent of an extreme couponer, you’ll want to optimize your car for gas mileage. Some simple ways to do that include:

-Driving at the posted speed limit. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the fuel economy of your car drops significantly for every five miles over 60 you drive.

-Don’t pack anything you don’t absolutely need. The extra weight will kill your car’s fuel economy.

-This is really only advice for our readers in the warmer states, but close your windows. Opening them creates drag, which in turn, destroys your car’s fuel economy.

-Keep your car in top running shape. Change the oil and fuel filter regularly, and have new spark plugs and fluids at the proper levels.

Additionally, you might consider renting a car if you don’t want to put the wear and tear on your own. You can get a budget rental car by comparing prices on Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity. These sites allow you to compare rental car prices as well as flights. This makes it easier than ever to ascertain if the best way to travel is by car or plane. Rental cars are surprisingly affordable, and if you have a car on its last legs that can’t make the trip, then it may be money well spent. No matter what you end up spending on a rental car, it will likely be significantly less than the cost of repairing the damage to your car caused by a long road trip.

Over the River and Through the Woods

Don’t think that just because you aren’t rolling in dough you can’t make it home for the holidays. With a little careful budgeting, planning and attention to detail, you will be able to spend the holidays with the ones you love most. If nothing else, your presence can be the best gift you give your family — and yourself.

Nicholas Pell is a freelance finance and business writer based out of Los Angeles, CA. He loves the thrill of a good deal and living well on a budget.