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Secrets to painless holiday travel, whether you are flying or driving

When you travel can make a big difference
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Posted at 5:17 AM, Nov 15, 2023

Whether you're planning to go wheels up on the tarmac this holiday season, or you'll be hitting the highway, holiday travel can be exhausting and expensive. Flying over the holiday weeks is something few people look forward to.

If it's not the crowded airports and long TSA lines, it's "delays, getting stuck, cold, and all those things," one traveler told us, heading off to catch her flight.

Jen Bullam has had several bad experiences and just crosses her fingers.

"You have to assume your flights are gonna take off, maybe not have mechanical issues, maybe not be delayed," she said.

Take some stress out of flying

Eric Rosen is the director of travel content at The Points Guy.

"After last year's travel meltdowns from various airlines," Rosen said, "travelers are justifiably nervous."

He says airlines have been working hard to avoid a repeat of last year when hundreds of flights were canceled over Christmas week.

But he says if you're waiting until the last minute to book, don't.

"Prices are not going to go down," Rosen said. "You will not find any magical sales happening."

If you want to monitor deals, he suggests services like Google Flights or Hopper, which alert you to price drops. And he suggests picking days to fly that are less popular and avoiding flying the day after Christmas or the day after New Year's, for instance.

The holidays themselves, such as Christmas Day, often have the most seats available at a lower price.

"Flexibility is always the key to finding the best deals," Rosen said.

Save time and money if driving

If you're hitting the road instead, you aren't alone. A near-record number of drivers are expected to travel by car this holiday season.

Sally French, a travel expert at NerdWallet, says, "A good chunk of people are intending to drive this year."

She says if you are driving, there are a lot of ways to avoid traffic jams and save money filling up your gas tank.

"One of the best ways that you could really save gas," she said, "is simply by avoiding traveling during those high traffic times."

That means avoiding late afternoon driving, especially on Fridays and Sundays. Weekend mornings tend to have the least amount of traffic. Next, she says, is to avoid pulling into the first gas station you see and instead use a savings app like Gas Buddy.

"You can then go to your map and find the nearest, cheapest gas price for you," French said.

Beyond that, you can see if paying cash for your gas will earn you a discount. Some stations will give a 5% discount. Those are all ways to make your holiday travel pain-free. Janina Nixon decided to just stay home.

"I make a point not to do so," she said. "I'm not going anywhere."

If you can wait till after New Year's for your travel, you'll most likely avoid a hassle and that way you don't waste your money.

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