5 tips for getting home for the holidays

Photo courtesy of morguefile user rmpinho

Photo courtesy of morguefile user rmpinho

This summer I moved from Minneapolis to San Francisco, and I have been enjoying my time in Northern California ever since. You can’t beat the fast access to nature, the ocean and some of the best wines in the world.

It’s easy to forget the holidays are right around the corner when the temperature barely dips below 60 degrees. But with Thanksgiving coming up this week and the December holidays, I have forced myself to start making plans.

Since we are thousands of miles away from the nearest family members, we will need to get on an airplane for the holidays.

If you have ever traveled during holiday season, you have probably noticed how tough it can be to book holiday flights. Most flights are twice their normal price, making for a very expensive and stressful holiday. Add in families in the Midwest and the east coast and holiday travel can cost an outright fortune.

How do you get the best deals for holiday travel? Here are a few ideas from a frequent traveler who has flown over 130,000 miles and visited 13 countries this year.

Tip #1: Book far in advance

The cheapest holiday flights are often published early in the flight schedule. If you know your holiday plans well in advance, try booking your 2015 holiday flights in January of 2015. This could save you hundreds of dollars.

If flight prices don’t seem reasonable to you at that time, then you can wait to see if prices go down. Set an alert for yourself to check airfares once a month until you find a price you can live with.

Tip #2: Look into using your frequent miles

Sometimes your plans for the holidays don’t shape up until a few months before the big day. This is when flights are the most expensive!

If you can’t find an agreeable price and you have thousands of frequent flyer miles in your account, check to see if you can find award tickets for your desired dates. Even if there aren’t great deals on your preferred dates, you might be able to get a good deal by being flexible by one or two days in either direction.

When I saw that it would cost $1,200 per person to visit both families this year, I nearly had a heart attack. After regaining my strength, I looked at the price for the flight in miles and noticed it was 60,000 miles on Delta. At a value of over two cents per mile used, I found this to be a tremendous deal and booked our flights using miles.

The best part is as a Platinum medallion traveler, I can change the ticket free of charge. This is the ultimate in flexibility!

While each airline has their own method of searching for flights with miles, you may find the new Delta flight search engine makes this the easiest.

Pro tip: I was able to fly to Minneapolis for 3 days and the east coast for 3 more days using the same ticket. This is called a “stopover” and it allowed me to make two trips in one – all for 60,000 miles. For more on maximizing your miles, you might want to check out my Jeffsetter travel blog.

Tip #3: Get the companion pass

I believe the most amazing deal available for domestic travel in the United States is the Southwest companion pass. If you earn enough points on Southwest airlines (110,000 points in a year), you earn a companion pass. This pass entitles you to bring a companion with you on every flight you take, free of charge!

A companion pass is valid in the year you earn the miles AND the entire next calendar year, which means you can fly your family, friends or spouses free for two years. This can save you a thousand dollars over the holidays alone.

While it may sound daunting to generate 110,000 points in a calendar year, there are ways to achieve points quickly. One way is through credit card signup bonuses from Southwest Airlines and Chase. Another is simply good old-fashioned flying!

Tip #4: Top off your miles to achieve status

This one is for the frequent flyers out there. If you are a few thousand miles short of achieving elite status with an airline, holiday travel may be your last chance to reach elite status. In that case, you may find that it is worthwhile to pay cash for your flight to get those last few miles. This is something I am considering myself.

Tip #5: Make your family come to you

The cheapest option, of course, is to have your family visit you. But where is the fun in that? What about you? Do you have any holiday travel tips to share?

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Guest bloggers for the TDS Business Blog.

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