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Five Ways to Save on Last-Minute Holiday Travel

You’re keen to get away for the holidays, whether to visit friends, family or just take a break from your usual routine. However, travel can be prohibitively expensive. How can you save on airfare, hotel, and other costs?

Here are five ways to save on travel expenses even if you decide to go at the last minute.

1. Use Apps for Last-Minute Holiday Travel Deals

Check the availability of hotels using travel apps like HotelTonight or Dosh that offer last minute travel deals, suggests Lee Huffman, travel blogger at BaldThoughts.com. These apps might offer cheaper, same-day deals on lodging.

“Or search on your favorite hotel chain’s website for specials that they’re promoting,” said Huffman in an email.  “The best deals are generally within one week of your stay,” he advised.

2. Sign Up For Loyalty Programs

It’s no news that signing up for airline and hotel loyalty programs can help you get travel perks.  Joining is easy and free. “And be sure to opt-in for promotional emails,” suggests Huffman.  Although you might balk at receiving what you think is junk email, he advised you could get a valuable promo code for a discount on your current vacation.

Frequent and savvy travelers know how to use hotel and airline rewards programs to their advantage, even over the holidays. “The key is being flexible with where you go and being willing to fork over more points,” Holly Johnson said, Frugal Travel Expert from ClubThrifty.com.

Johnson gave a personal example. “We stayed at the JW Marriott in Cancun on Marriott points right after the holiday a few years ago and found that award availability was plentiful.”

3. Use Co-Branded Credit Cards

Many of the major airlines and hotel chains have co-branded Visa, MasterCard, or American Express credit cards. Booking even last-minute holiday travel can work to your advantage.

“If you have the airline’s credit card, most will waive the fees when you check bags and provide priority boarding so you can get on the plane earlier,” said Huffman. Using the right card can help take the sting out of airline travel.

Hotel perks can make your stay more enjoyable. “The hotel credit card will automatically boost your status with the hotel chain so you can get first dibs on upgrades, late check-outs, and plenty of other goodies,” Huffman added.

4. Travel After the Holidays

Many people want to travel immediately before Christmas to reach their destination in time for the holidays. However, Johnson suggests traveling right after the holiday. “Plan to depart on December 27th or after and you can usually save 30 percent on flights or more,” she said.

Arriving later in December might also give you the opportunity to spend New Year’s Eve at a glorious beach or mountain area.

5. Don’t Travel

If you don’t leave town and instead have a “staycation,” you’ll automatically save a bundle on last-minute holiday travel costs. However, staying home for the holidays doesn’t have to be dreary.

You’ve finally got some time to visit local museums, go to sporting events, splurge on a spa, or explore other inexpensive attractions in your hometown. An extended break might give you the opportunity to kick back, relax, and take advantage of what your area has to offer.

The Bottom Line on Last Minute Vacation Deals

With a bit of work, you can find last-minute holiday travel deals. The keys are to use travel rewards programs and be flexible with your travel plans. You could reap the rewards of a cheap but fantastic vacation, even during the busy holidays.

About Valerie Rind

Valerie Rind is the author of the award-winning book, “Gold Diggers and Deadbeat Dads: True Stories of Friends, Family, and Financial Ruin.” With expertise in a broad range of personal finance and lifestyle topics, her work has been featured online in Time, Forbes, Fortune, MSN, U.S. News & World Report, The Huffington Post, PBS Next Avenue, and her own website at ValerieRind.com.

During a hiatus from a corporate career, Rind worked for a housing authority where she created its pilot personal finance program for low-income individuals. She was one of the founding volunteer moderators for the myFICO community forum.

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