Personal finance

Plan to travel this holiday season? Don’t blow your budget by making these 5 mistakes

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You may have the perfect plan for holiday season travel.

Yet one wrong move and your carefully crafted budget could fly out the window.

“The holidays are a really busy time and there are already so many things to do – from checking off wish lists to holiday functions,” said Expedia spokesperson Alexis Tiacoh. “That means a lot of travelers won’t have the time to sit and browse for the best flight and hotel deals.”

Travelers plan to spend billions this holiday season on travel, according to the website Nerdwallet. Forty-five percent of Americans, some 114 million adults, expect to shell out an average of $1,393 on flights and/or hotels over the holidays, the survey by the personal finance website and The Harris Poll found.

With the added expenses of things like entertaining and buying gifts, it’s important to first have a budget — and then stick to it.

“So often, people just start planning without sorting out a budget,” said AAA spokesperson Julie Hall.

“Take the time to do that from the outset.”

Here are the most common mistakes to avoid so that you don’t blow your budget.

Booking too early or too late

You may know your holiday plans well in advance, yet booking your flight too early could wind up costing you.

People “assume that by booking early they can have both peace of mind and cost savings, but our data shows that booking six months or more from the departure date can be a pretty expensive proposition for travelers,” said Vivek Pandya, lead analyst for Adobe Digital Insights.

Adobe Analytics analyzed more than 1 trillion visits to travel websites from 2018 to 2019 and found that the best time for customers who haven’t yet bought plane tickets for Christmastime travel to nab the cheapest tickets is the first week of December — when prices decrease by 13%.

People often simply sketch out a rough budget and don’t dig into all the small charges that could take them above what they want to spend

Sarah Schlichter

Wait too long, and you’ll see prices jump back up 8% the week prior to the holiday.

For Thanksgiving travel, you may have missed the best deal. The data firm found that the first week in November is the optimal time for last-minute bookings. It expects tickets to spike up to 14% a week prior to the holiday.

Waiting to book just a few weeks before your trip may get you some bargains, although that isn’t necessarily the best time to do it. Overall, booking holiday travel about three to four months out is a “good rule of thumb for unlocking cost savings,” Pandya said.

Also, the date you actually travel could save you money.

“For the lowest rates, you may want to think about starting your trip on Thanksgiving Day,” Expedia’s Tiacoh said.

However, if you don’t want to spend the holiday on an airplane, then depart the Monday or Tuesday of Thanksgiving week for the second-cheapest rates, she said, pointing to data from the 2018 holiday.

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For Christmas, the cheapest day to fly is Christmas Eve. Last year, travelers paid around $100 less than those who started their trip on the Saturday prior to the holiday, the travel booking website found.

If you don’t want to travel on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, aim to start your trip on the 23rd, said Tiacoh. The busiest day is shaping up to be Dec. 21, she added.

Forgetting about the ‘little extras’

Airfare, hotel, rental car and food are usually on the top of everyone’s budget. However, people tend to forget about the little things that can quickly add up on a trip, said Sarah Schlichter, senior editor of online travel magazine

That can include things like tolls, ATM fees and coffee/snack breaks.

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She suggests budgeting an extra $25 to $50 a day for these types of unexpected expenses.

“Planning a trip is time-consuming enough without attempting to account for every single possible expense,” Schlichter said.

“Especially at a busy time of year like the holidays, people often simply sketch out a rough budget and don’t dig into all the small charges that could take them above what they want to spend.”

Not considering travel insurance

People also don’t think about travel insurance, which can cover things such as trip cancellation, medical treatment, lost luggage or a missed connection.

“If you are going to be flying or taking a larger vacation over the holidays, it can really pay dividends if you end up needing it,” said AAA’s Hall.

It’s especially important this time of year because winter weather also becomes a factor, she said.

Plus, there is also the rush of travelers expected, which could mean delays and overbookings on airlines. Last year, AAA projected 54 million Americans would travel for Thanksgiving and 112 million would take a trip around the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Skipping food and entertainment

If you plan on eating out, make sure to include it in your budget. The same goes for entertainment, especially if you have kids.

If you are staying at a hotel, AAA’s Hall suggests looking for accommodations that may offer children’s programs or holiday activities.

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Also, find a hotel that offers free breakfast to cut down on food costs.

If you booked your trip through a travel website, its app can show you different attractions and activities at your destination.

Expedia’s Tiacoh said it can be a “huge time and money saver” to use the app to buy those tickets.

Ignoring hidden charges

It’s easy to gloss over charges not included in your up-front major expenses when booking a trip.

For example, your economy fare or ultra-discount airline flight may seem cheap up front, but there are usually other fees not included in the price.

“Economy fares may look attractive at the beginning, but by the time you factor in the fees for checked bags, carry-on bags and seat selection … it can rise above the cost of a standard ticket, in some cases,” said AAA’s Hall.

There are also things like resort fees, parking costs or WiFi charges that may not be included in hotel rates.

“Be sure to look very carefully at all costs before booking,”’s Schlichter said.

“Many travel companies make the base fare/rate very obvious in order to encourage travelers to book – while burying extra charges in the fine print,” she added. “If you’re in a hurry, it’s easy to read right over them.”

CHECK OUT: 4 places besides Costco where you can save money buying household essentials in bulk via Grow with Acorns+CNBC.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.

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