By Jeanine Skowronski
Whether you’re traveling home for the holidays or thinking of taking a well-earned vacation at the end of the year, you’ll want to make the most of every moment away from the office. Don’t let high seasonal costs dampen your spirit – budget travel hacks and new technology tricks can make a getaway during the holidays much more enjoyable and cost-effective.
Here are some smart travel tips to put to use as you plan your holiday visits and winter vacations.
If you use your credit card for most purchases, getting a card that earns travel rewards is one way to lower the cost of your trip without changing your behavior. Many issuers offer cards that earn rewards when you spend, giving you the opportunity to lower your travel costs by redeeming the points for flights and hotel reservations. Plus, some travel rewards cards offer extra perks, like a free checked bag or free Wi-Fi, that can lower the total cost of a flight.
The credit cards offering the most rewards often require a high credit score to qualify, but if you’re eligible (and you don’t run up balances you can’t afford), they present one of the easiest ways to make your money go further when planning a trip. Just be sure to check if the card carries an annual fee you can afford.
The digital revolution has changed everything about the way we travel – from virtual reality to mobile apps, new technology helps us see the world and better communicate with one another. Speaking of apps, there are plenty of them out there that can help you make the right travel reservations for yourself and/or your family.
– Hipmunk, for instance, makes it easier to find a plane ticket or hotel reservation that matches your requirements, such as non-stop flights, specific airlines and price range. It also syncs with your digital calendar to determine the ideal dates.
– Skyscanner helps when booking a flight by identifying the cheapest travel times and filtering travel options based on time, travel class, and airline.
– To find out more about an airport, consider downloading GateGuru, which provides up-to-date information about everything from flight times to the locations of ATMs.
When and how you book your trip often have a significant impact on price. It pays to be flexible, choosing vacation dates that are less popular in order to leverage deep discounts. For example, it’s possible to save money on a skiing vacation by booking outside of the prime holiday dates or at the very start of the season. You can also lower the cost of your family ski trip by reserving equipment and lift tickets online ahead of time, flying into smaller regional airports close to the ski resort to avoid driving up there and checking if gas stations and grocery stores close to your ski spot have coupons or discount lift tickets available.
Also, last-minute bookings at hotels (or, even, the aforementioned ski resorts) can be cheaper because it’s possible to take advantage of cancellations. Hotel managers dislike empty rooms, so they offer reduced rates to remain at capacity during off-peak times.
When it comes to flights, some of the same rule applies: You may be able save on airfare if you book on off-peak travel days. It’s also possible to avoid some of the madness and chaos by taking a red-eye. These flights are often cheaper, and because fewer people are boarding the plane, you spend less time in the airport.
Consider signing up for fare alerts with your favorite carrier. There are apps you can use that provide alerts across carriers, too. Airfare prediction app Hopper, for example, will send you a push notification when a trip’s price drops and before it rises.
Good planning keeps you safe and informed and ensures your vacation is seamless. If you’re traveling abroad, you can visit the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs’ travel.state.gov to learn more about your destination, including visa requirements, local laws, and customs. There are travel warnings available on that site as well.
If you’re undertaking potentially dangerous activities, it’s important to find out about local medical care in the region and to ensure you have adequate insurance. (Check out this list of the top medical apps to have when traveling.) The World Health Organization provides recommendations for vaccinations and health precautions for over 190 Member States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends yearly influenza vaccinations, and says it’s a smart idea to get your annual shot two weeks before traveling. (Airports and planes are common locations for catching the flu.)
Passports for U.S. citizens 16 years or older expire after ten years, and passports for those under 16 expire after five years. If you need a new passport, apply with plenty of time to spare. Passports generally should be valid for at least six months after you return home and have at least two blank pages.
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. The service lets U.S. citizens register their trips with the relevant U.S. Embassy or Consulate. It provides information regarding safety conditions in the area and makes it easier to contact travelers in the event of an emergency.
With the holidays quickly approaching, your plans can get messy and fairly hectic, especially if you’re looking to travel and visit family or take a vacation. However, with a bit of financial planning and thorough research, you can ensure that your trip will be less stressful, organized and budget-friendly.
About the guest blogger: Jeanine Skowronski is the managing editor at Credit.com. Her work has been featured by TheStreet, Newsweek, Business Insider, Yahoo Finance, MSN, Fox Business, Forbes, CNBC and various other online publications. Follow her at @JeanineSko