How can you save money on holiday travel? Strategic planning can spare you from financial stress over the holiday season.

A vast number of Americans will travel this upcoming holiday season, if last year’s number of holiday travelers are any indication. In 2017, a record 107 million Americans left their homes to travel over the winter holidays.  

While that makes for a joyful, yet hectic hubub of the holiday season, all that holiday travel can scare up some serious financial stress for American families. Americans plan to charge a combined $135.8 billion to their credit cards to fund holiday travel-related expenses in 2018, according to a recent survey analysis by NerdWallet.

A lot of travelers use travel credit cards strategically to rack up points and rewards that can fund future trips, but the rewards are only ‘free’ for those consistently paying off their balances. Though the average American paid off their 2017 travel debt in 2.2 months, five percent of Americans are still paying interest on last year’s travel. If Americans average the same 2.2 month payoff this year, they’ll rack up a collective $2.8 billion in interest.

Here are my top two ways to save money and reduce stress when traveling for the holiday season:


Even though they’re here every year and we often have the same destination, so many Americans still wait to the last minute to book travel accommodations for the holidays. Google’s travel team strongly suggests booking holiday flights in August or September when you’re likely to secure the best deals (and because fares nearly double in October). Don’t worry, if you haven’t booked your flights yet there are still a few ways to save.

Flexibility is the best way to reduce flight costs. If you’re willing or able to depart or return a few days earlier or later it could save you hundreds of dollars. A good thing to keep in mind here is that adding an extra day or two might not save you much if you’re going to be paying for additional nights at a hotel. On the other hand, if you’ve got courteous hosts, make sure it’s okay with them before booking flights. Odds are they’ll be delighted to have you, but you don’t want to overstay your welcome.

Take the time to do your research. Sure, you have that airline you always use for flights. It’s convenient, it’s familiar and you’ve grown to trust them. That doesn’t mean they’re offering the best booking deals for your holiday travel. See what your preferred airline has available and then take some time to look at price comparisons. Google created a new tool this year to make price comparisons easier. Google Flights shows how flight prices stack up against historical prices and prices available for the year so far.


NerdWallet’s survey found a third of Americans would use a checked bag to get gifts to their final destination if they were flying for the holidays. A checked bag runs $25 on average, but can easily reach $50 with some airlines. And if you’re adding a second checked bag it’s likely going to double the cost.

Most gifts can be purchased online and sent directly to your destination (often for free if they meet minimum price requirements). If wrapping gifts personally is important to you, designate an ally at your final destination to collect packages for you to discreetly wrap upon your arrival. If your gift is homemade, consider mailing the package separately before your trip. Of course, this only works for certain gifts, baked goods or liquids might make it through a flight better than the U.S. postal system.

As I’m sure you’ve deduced by now, saving money on holiday travel comes down to strategic planning. If you’re one of those people who forgets the holidays are coming until we’re in the thick of it, set yourself a yearly calendar reminder around mid-August to start looking for flight deals and determine how to best handle getting the gifts there. Most importantly, have fun celebrating with those you love, that’s what really matters.

Read more about how to save money on travel and the holidays: