It doesn’t feel like it should be time to book your holiday travel just yet — we haven’t even closed out the summer with Labor Day getaways — but many people think that the sooner you secure your tickets and hotel rooms, the better the deals you’ll get. Turns out, that may not be entirely true.
According to a recent study by Skyscanner, a global travel search engine, the time when you’ll truly get the most bang for your buck is no more than four weeks prior to each of the end-of-year holidays — Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.
Skyscanner reviewed the U.S. roundtrip booking habits of its more than 50 million users and discovered that there are even possible savings if you book your flights the same week. However, if you aren’t up for that much risk with booking your trips, the site does suggest alternative time frames.
When Should I Book My Holiday Travel?
For Thanksgiving, the data crunchers suggest booking the week of October 31 to get the most savings (7.7%) or the week of October 17 (for savings of 5.1%). If you’re planning Christmas travels, you may want to do so the week of November 21 for the best deals (6.4% savings). If you don’t want to add one more thing to your list of things to do around Thanksgiving, the week of December 5 will reportedly get you a savings of almost 5%.
And if it’s New Year’s travel you’re planning, you could do so at the same time as your Christmas plans, as the week of December 5 will reportedly get you a 10.5% savings. These travel experts say waiting to make New Year’s travel plans until the last minute could pay off for you, with last-minute bookings (one week away) offering savings of 6.7% or two weeks out a 6.6% savings.
And what about when it comes to specific dates? Many experts recommend booking your travel to fly in or out of town on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Sunday. Travels on Friday and Sunday are typically considered the most expensive, so you’ll want to avoid those if possible.
Budgeting for Holiday Travel
If you aren’t new to traveling for the holidays, you know how expensive it can get. It’s a good idea to figure out how much of an expense your wallet can handle and take some time to search for deals that fall within your budget.
You may also want to look for additional ways to save, like using a travel credit card that offers perks like the opportunity to check your bag for free. Just keep in mind that these cards often require a good credit score to qualify, so if you’re thinking of applying for one, it’s a good idea to check your credit scores ahead of time so you have an idea of whether you’ll be eligible. (You can see two of your credit scores for free, updated each month, on Credit.com.)
Airlines are making families pay extra to sit together, angering some consumers, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“Airlines have expanded extra-legroom seating on planes and labeled more plain coach seats as preferred, leaving fewer seats to reserve in advance without fees,” Scott McCartney reported. Some carriers took away the right to reserve a seat in advance from their cheapest fares, he reported, while others are “openly marketing the so-called family fee.”
Elite Status Is Key
A big part of the issue is the disparity between consumers with elite status and passengers without top-tier privileges. For those with elite-level frequent-flier status, a greater inventory of unassigned seats is shown when they go to book reservations. In contrast, those who don’t have top-tier status only see open seats in extra-legroom rows or seats that require extra fees, the paper said.
“Why did I just pay for a better seat when I could have just moved around anyway?” Louis Silfin, a banking consultant in New York, lamented to The Journal. Silfin paid $9 extra to sit near the front of the plane on a roundtrip flight between New York and Boston. Each time he boarded the supposedly full flights, only five people filled the combined 12 seats from his row and the one behind.
For extended families taking a trip together, costs for advance seat assignments can run well into the hundreds or even the thousands, the paper reported.
Nabbing a Cheap(er) Seat
For their part, some airlines do try to make seat maps available to customers before they purchase a fare and try to seat families together at the airport. Recently, this reporter was checking in for a flight to New York when an Emirates agent noticed my husband and I weren’t seated together, despite booking our fares well in advance. We complained, and the agent resolved the issue, no questions asked.
Though spending extra on airfare isn’t ideal for families on a budget, there may be ways to get around it. For starters, you can budget for money-wasters, as I’ve written about before, and look into some of the best travel reward cards, which offer perks such as a free checked bag and the occasional seat upgrade.
Credit cards that offer airline miles are another option, as they can maximize your chance of nabbing a free flight or earning extra rewards toward one. Just be sure to check your credit before applying for any new credit cards since you’ll need a good score to qualify and want to avoid generating a hard inquiry on your credit report. (You can see where your credit currently stands by viewing your free credit report summary, updated each month, on Credit.com.)
If a trip to Florida won’t cut it, here are nine other adventures you might want to take over the holidays. Just make sure your finances (and your credit score) can handle the trip — prices are subject to change, but, even with some fluctuation, these getaways aren’t exactly frugal.
1. Go on a Ski Safari — by Helicopter
Thanks to The Aplina Gstaad’s new “Ski Safari,” adventurous guests can hit not one, but three slopes in a day, shuttling from one ski area to another by helicopter. First on the to-do list is breathtaking St. Moritz Corvatsch, then it’s off to Zermatt’s Testa Grigia on the Italian side of the Matterhorn. From there, guests are transported back to Gstaad, one of the largest ski spots in the Alps. For CHF 12,000 (about $12,016), the package includes a private shuttle between the airports and slopes in Gstaad, St. Moritz and Zermatt, helicopter flights, all ski passes and one night in a Deluxe Room Schonried — plus breakfast and a CHF 100 culinary credit.
2. Sip Wine by the Fire at a Dude Ranch
Ice fishing? Check. Snowshoeing? Check. Ringing in the new year like John Wayne? That’s how to holiday. The Lodge & Spa at Brush Creek Ranch in Saratoga, Wyo., offers a stellar holiday and new year package, complete with hearty feasts, horseback rides and just about every other winter activity there is to do in the country. Prices vary by group size and accommodations, but a family of four has the option to book two lodge rooms for $1,600 per night or larger lodge rooms with queen- and full-size beds for $2,200 per night.
3. Rent a Lakefront Estate
Deep in the pine forests of the Adirondacks is Lake Kora, a historic lakefront property unblemished by time. Built over a century ago and only recently opened to the public, Lake Kora comprises eight buildings, each with its own kitchen. There’s a candlepin bowling alley, media room, three pristine lakes and even a chapel. Guests are served locally sourced meals prepared by an on-site chef. If booking through BeautifulPlaces, a luxury villa rental site, rates start at $14,950 per day for up to 14 guests; additional guests cost extra.
4. Swim in Gianni Versace’s Pool of Gold
In looks and in name, Villa Casa Casuarina is the very definition of opulence. Built in 1930 by architect and author Alden Freeman, heir to the Standard Oil fortune, the South Beach, Fla. mansion was purchased in the ’90s by Italian designer Gianni Versace, who spent $33 million to renovate it. Today the 10-room villa is a luxury hotel, albeit with the kind of amenities even the most worldly travelers aren’t used to — namely a 54-foot-long Million Mosaic Pool lined with thousands — yes, thousands — of glittering 24K gold tiles. Prices vary by suite and date, but a one-night stay can cost $749 and up.
5. Race Dubai’s Yas Marina Circuit
Yes, there are things to do in Dubai besides shopping. Families can soak up views from the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, let their kids explore a virtual city and day trip it to Abu Dhabi for a visit to Ferrari World. Speaking of sports cars, they can also head to Yas Marina Circuit, where an elegant Aston Martin GT4 is waiting to be taken for a spin. For AED 1,600 (around $435.62), you can tick that one off of your bucket list.
6. Charter a Private Yacht
You may never set foot on Roberto Cavalli’s Baglietto, but you can always charter your own private yacht instead. Amazing Charters, a boat rental service in the British Virgin Islands, offers seven-cabin superyachts built by Abeking & Rasmussen with en suite showers, jacuzzi tubs and walk-in closets — for starters. An infinity waterfall will impress all your fortunate guests, and it goes without saying there’s a sports bar and gym. All this and more can be had for 595,000 EUR per week or around $648,074. (That’s the high rate. The low rate is 495,000 EUR per week or around $539,154). Did we mention there’s a seven-day minimum?
7. Try “Forage-to-Table” Dining
Rolling hills, sumptuous spas, cooking your own foraged wild mushrooms … No, it’s not the typical getaway, but visitors to Laughing Frog Estate will get a kick out of foraging for food and crashing in the five-bedroom property at night. Operated by No Taste Like Home, a self-described “forage-to-table” company in Asheville, N.C., the tours give people a chance to not only gather their own wild mushrooms and other “extreme cuisine” but transform it into edible dishes (with help from a restaurant or chef, of course). Suggested donations are $75 for adults and $30 for children. The 7,000-square-foot private estate, however, will set you back $1,200 a night.
8. Party Hop in Punta del Este
The airfare to Uruguay doesn’t come cheap, but visiting famed restaurateur Francis Mallmann’s Hotel Garzon will be worth it. Just past the lighthouse at Jose Ignacio Beach, this restored century-old mansion has all the trappings a baqueano (horseback guide) could want (Prices range between $590 and $820 per night, plus tax.) As you sip a cold Quilmes (a favored Argentine beer), relax by the fireplace — every room has one — and strategize how you’ll befriend some locals and weasel your way onto a private party’s guest list. The best parties start well after midnight.
9. Snorkel Among Sea Lions in the Galápagos
Any trip to the Galápagos is essentially a cruise, as they’re accessible only by ship. But rather than opt for a party cruise, you could consider booking Lindblad Expeditions, who lead trips onto eight of the islands. During the day, the company’s trained naturalists lead curious passengers on hikes where they can wave hi to dozens of friendly sea lions and lounging marine iguanas. Later, kids can go snorkeling amid the penguins and brightly colored parrotfish. Lindblad’s MS Polaris cruises year-round, but rates vary widely (from approximately $6,290 to $11,990).