If you're far from an advanced planner and just got bite by the Christmas bug, don't fret. You can still save on last-minute holiday travel by following this advice!
1. Consider flying when nobody else wants to
Ever thought about catching a flight on Christmas Day? If you leave early enough and are going home, you can still make it there in time for Christmas dinner! Flying directly on holidays boasts two advantages. The first is fewer crowds because most people are already at their destinations. The second is lower fares. TravelChannel.com estimates fares can be between 25% and 50% lower than usual. Consider doing it this way for New Year's Ever or New Year's Day.
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2. Check nearby airports for cheaper fares
In cities that have two or more airports, check fares to all of them. For example, you might consider flying into Milwaukee when you have to go to Chicago and then renting a car to drive to your destination. A little inconvenience could save you a lot of money! In Orlando, Sanford Field may have a cheaper fare than Orlando International. In Houston, Hobby could be cheaper than Intercontinental. Those are just a couple of examples.
3. Find a last-minute hotel
A couple of free apps could save you big on same-day hotel bookings. Tonight-Only Deals is part of the free Priceline Negotiator app. Unlike the normal Priceline thing, you know the name of the hotel before you book with Tonight-Only Deals. The app simply helps deliver what Priceline says will be up to 35% savings at the last minute.
Another app that offers similar last-minute booking deals is HotelTonight. Again, you'll know the name of the place where you're going to stay with this app too. Just remember to visit TripAdvisor.com to vet the hotels you're offered before you say "yes."
4. Try timing the market
When it comes to investing, Clark Howard isn't a fan of trying to time the market to optimize gains and minimize losses. But when it comes to getting the best airfare deal? Well, that's a different story!
The Airline Reporting Corporation (ARC), which is like the back office of ticket selling for the nation's airlines, has monitored data continually over a 19-month period and found that the magic time to buy a ticket is generally 8 weeks before you travel.
Of course, you missed that window long ago if you're debating Christmas travel while you read this! So for you? The key is to act fast...as in today, as soon as you finish this article! "Check prices at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday; that's when the greatest number of cheap seats might be available," Consumer Reports writes.
5. Don't forget about driving!
If your destination is 500 miles or less, you might consider packing up the kids, the gifts and the car and driving. Earlier this week, the average cost of a gallon of gas around the country dipped below $2 for the first time since 2009, according to AAA. So get out there and hit the open road!
Read more: Tipping for the holidays: Who and how much?
For more money-saving travel advice, see our Travel section.