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Travel

Money-Saving Strategies for Holiday Travel

These tips will help cut the costs of flying and staying in a hotel during Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Traveling for the holidays can put a strain on your budget. Airfares, in particular, around Thanksgiving and Christmas can be outrageous -- and the prices usually tend to get higher the closer it gets to these holidays. If you haven't already booked a flight, though, it doesn't mean you'll go bankrupt getting home for your family's gathering (or taking a trip to get away from the chaos of the season). There still are strategies you can use to keep the cost of flying under control. And there also are ways to find deals on hotels rooms if you're not staying with family or friends.

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Book your flight now. The experts at travel site Hotwire recommend booking flights 21 days before you plan to travel. After that window, prices will steadily rise. So you'll need to purchase airline tickets for Thanksgiving travel soon. For Christmas travel, you can sign up at Trip Watcher to keep an eye on a flight you want to take and notify you when the price drops. If you find a good deal on a flight, book it before it's gone, say the Hotwire experts. Then keep an eye on your fare after you buy because most airlines and online travel agencies will give you a rebate -- usually in travel credits or vouchers -- if your flight’s price drops below what you paid. You can sign up on Yapta.com to receive alerts if the price drops on a flight you've booked. Be aware, though, that some airlines can charge hefty fees for re-booking your flight to get a lower fare. It's not worth it to make a change if the fee outweighs your rebate.

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Avoid peak travel days. The Wednesday before and Sunday after Thanksgiving are the most expensive days for airfare because they are peak travel days, according to Hotwire. For example, the lowest round-trip fare on a flight from Chicago to Atlanta departing November 27 -- the Wednesday before Thanksgiving -- and returning December 1 is $353, according to a search on Kayak.com. But you can find a round-trip flight for the same route for $304 if you depart November 26 and return November 30. By flying on Thanksgiving day and returning December 2, you can find fares for less than $300. For Christmas travel, Hotwire experts recommend avoiding travel on Christmas Eve because it is historically one of the more expensive days of the year to travel. See the CheapAir.com calendar for the best days to fly for the holidays. And you can use a use a flexible search option on travel booking sites, such as the ones at Bing Travel or Kayak.com, to see which days have the best fares.

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Hold off on booking a hotel room. Although flights are packed around the holidays, hotels aren't always booked because many people stay with family, according to Hotwire. Unlike airfares, hotel prices tend to drop as Thanksgiving and Christmas approach. If possible, wait until the last minute -- even the day of your stay -- to book accommodations to score the biggest savings because hotels will slash prices to fill rooms. Otherwise, book your room using Tingo, which will automatically re-book your room at a lower rate if the hotel drops its price. Then you'll get a refund for the difference.

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Use social media to find deals. Travelers can find limited-time deals on flights and hotel rooms by using social media. Follow Facebook pages and Twitter feeds of sites that tend to highlight a variety of deals across multiple carriers and hotel chains, such as Airfarewatchdog, Expedia and Hotwire. If you have a preferred airline or hotel, follow its social media pages. And the Twitter hashtags #TravelTuesdays and #TTOT (Travel Talk On Twitter) point to discounts for flights and accommodations, according to Hotwire experts.

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Save money by shipping luggage. For Christmas travel, you might not be able to fit all the gifts you need to take into a carry-on bag. That means, unless you're flying on Southwest Airlines and can check two bags for free, you'll have to pay $25 or more for baggage fees. So you might come out ahead by shipping your luggage by FedEx, UPS or the U.S. Postal Service rather than checking it on the plane. See Save Money by Shipping Your Luggage to learn more.

Don't let fees wipe out your savings. If you've spent time tracking fares to get the best price on flights for the holidays, make sure your savings aren't eliminated by fees you might be hit with when you fly. To avoid paying more than you have to, it's important to be aware of what airlines charge for and how much. See the TravelNerd airline fee tool or the Airfarewatchdog airline fee guide.

If you're staying in a hotel, make sure you don't get hit with extra charges. You often can avoid these if you know which amenities hotels typically add a fee for using. See 10 Annoying Hotel Fees and How to Avoid Them for more information.

Celebrate between Thanksgiving and Christmas. You'll save a lot by traveling between the holidays because those weeks are the lowest point of the fall/winter travel season, according to Hotwire. Airlines and hotels drop their prices to attract travelers during this slow period. So consider talking your family into gathering between Thanksgiving and Christmas rather than on the holidays themselves.

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