Military life means that you often live far away from family. And living far away from family means that, some years, you may want to travel to visit that family during the holiday season. The thing about travel, though, is that it can be expensive. And it is often MORE expensive during the holidays.
Thankfully, there are things that you can do to keep costs down.
1. Be Flexible With Dates
If you can manage it, being flexible with your travel dates can result in big savings.
If you’re flying, check to see whether the prices are cheaper on different days. Many airlines offer some type of low fare calendar that shows you which days have the best prices. There are typically very big differences in prices around the November and December holidays, especially Thanksgiving.
When renting a car, also play around with different dates. Sometimes, changing the pickup or return by even one day can have a big impact on the total cost.
If the difference in prices is large, or if one family member needs to get back to work or school, you might even consider traveling on different dates to maximize your savings.
2. Skip the Air (When It Makes Sense)
Depending on your route, flying is often the most expensive option. Obviously, you can’t grab a bus to Hawaii, and it’s not realistic to take the train from Tennessee to California for the Thanksgiving holiday. But check out your options before you make a decision. Heavy travel routes often have upscale bus services, and the train might be an affordable alternative to air travel. (Or it could be very expensive — it just depends.)
Driving can provide a double discount — a lower cost to get to your destination, and no need for a rental car when you get there. Be sure to factor in hotel costs if your drive would be too long to manage in one day.
3. Ask for a Discount
When making bookings, always ask for any available discounts. Tell them that you are military or a veteran, or any other group that often receives discounts. If you’re flying, take the time to call and see whether there is an unadvertised military price that might be lower than what you can see online.
Another option, while not a discount, is to cash in credit card points or frequent traveler awards to fund your holiday trip.
4. Join All the Clubs
Be sure that you join the loyalty program for gas stations, airlines, rental cars and hotels. It is getting to the point where you can’t get the best price on anything without belonging to the brand’s loyalty program. These programs may also offer added benefits such as free breakfasts at hotels or easier pickups for rental cars.
You may also want to join rebate apps that offer cash back on gasoline, meals and other purchases.
5. Start Saving Early
It’s a little late to implement this tip for this holiday season, but start saving in January for that November and December travel. Set up a separate savings account and have an amount automatically transferred into that account with each paycheck. Even $50 a month saved throughout the year can help make the trip feel less expensive when it actually happens.
Traveling is so much more pleasant when you’re not worried about the cost. Preplanning and comparison shopping can help keep the expense within your budget.
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