How to Save on Holiday Travel

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Don’t let the cost of transportation keep you from your loved ones during the holidays.

If you’re like most families, you love to travel for the holidays, but hate the high cost of air travel. This is especially true if you have to make an international flight with a family of four or more. Luckily, there are things you can do in both the long-term and short-term to help offset those costs.

For the long-term

When it comes to air travel, one of the best things you can do to curb the cost is to use a travel credit card. Many of these feature rewards that grant you miles on your everyday purchases. One example of this is the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, which helps you gain miles without needing to adjust your spending habits.

Here are some examples of purchases you could make and the miles you’ll accumulate:

1. Gym membership

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On average, we spend $40 to $50 a month on a gym membership. For the sake of this exercise (pun intended), we’ll assume the higher end of the spectrum. If you were to use your Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card to pay for that membership, then you would have 1,100 miles in 11 months. This might not sound like much, but keep reading…

2. Daily coffees

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Based on a study featured on CBS News, it was determined that the average amount a person spent on coffee reached $65 per month. This was based on the average price of a cup of coffee from Dunkin Donuts, Caribou Coffee, and Starbucks. If you charged 11 months’ worth of coffee to the right travel credit card, you could have 1,430 miles. Hardly enough for a flight, but it’s all starting to add up.

3. Cable TV

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A fair amount of people still pay for cable television and if you’re one of them, then you could be paying on average $80 or more per month. If you were to use a travel credit card on those monthly bills, you could come away after 11 months with as many as 1,760 miles.

4. Electricity

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According to the United States Energy Information Agency (EIA), the average American electric bill can be as high as $114.03 a month. While your own monthly bill will vary on your location, weather, and household, let’s use this figure as an example. If we round this estimate up to $115 and pay it all off with a travel credit card, you’re looking at a possible 2,530 miles.

5. Dining out

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In our own analysis of Americans eating out, we found that the average person can spend upwards of $232 on meals outside of the home. While this can add up to quite a chunk of change, sometimes it can’t be helped. However, if you were to pay for those meals with a Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, you’d be banking some major mileage. After 11 months, you’d have 5,104 miles.

6. Pet expenses

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It’s tough to put a price on a pet, but there’s no denying the simple truth that owning one – especially a dog or a cat – can be expensive. One particular breakdown for a dog examined food, toys, emergency funds, and even pet insurance before arriving at a monthly cost of $338.61. At about $339 a month for 11 months, you could end up with 7,458 miles.

7. Retail gas

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In an exclusive analysis put together by the Oil Price Information Service for CNNMoney, Americans were spending $360 a month on average on gas. While there are so many factors to consider that can either raise or decrease this figure for you, let’s roll with it. After 11 months, paying with a travel credit card, you would have something to the tune of 8,118 miles.

8. Groceries

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Which brings us to food, arguably the largest monthly expenditure of any American family. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the average family of four on a low-cost plan could pay upwards of $836.20 a month. Were you to cover those costs with a Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, that would come to 18,414 miles in 11 months.

The result…

So what does this look like after 11 months of using the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card on everyday expenses? Well, after 11 months, you would have something close to 45,914 miles, but that’s not all. Many of these travel credit cards come with signup bonuses and, in the case of the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, you would add an additional 50,000 miles.

In all, you would have 95,914 miles. And after you’ve paid for your flight, you can redeem those miles for an account credit of $959.14. That’s enough money to cover the cost of two or more domestic flights. You could also afford one international flight or, at the very least, shear off a huge portion of the cost.

For the short-term

If you’ve waited until the last minute, don’t worry. There are a few things you can try in order to make your holiday travel a little more affordable.

1. Book flights on ‘off’ days

Booking a flight on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday could make a big difference when it comes to the cost of your ticket. Generally, these are considered to be the cheapest days to travel as they are statistically the least popular among consumers.

2. Break up the band

If you’re a family of four, you might consider splitting up into two groups each with a parent and a child. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to book two cheap seats during the holidays (at the last minute), not four all together.

3. Go by city, not airport

Sometimes you’ll find more options and better variety in prices if you search for flights based on city instead of specific airports. Adjusting your search will often yield a larger listing of airports in the area you can use to compare prices and find the right one for you.

4. Shop on a Tuesday afternoon

We already talked about the “off” days to go shopping for flights and if you need to get more granular, try Tuesday at 3 p.m. EST. This is recommended because many airfare sales are usually filed late Monday evening.

Airline credit cards

In addition to travel credit cards, we’ve also covered the best airline credit cards. These can help you save on holiday travel even when you don’t have a full year to accrue mileage.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card has a signup bonus where you can earn 50,000 bonus miles when you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months of opening an account. Based on those earlier estimates of monthly costs, it shouldn’t be any trouble to reach that threshold within a month.

Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

The Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express features a signup bonus of 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $500 with your new card during the first three months. That’s an easy enough goal to reach within a month and can help lessen the financial blow when putting it toward airfare.

Methodology

These numbers were determined taking the average monthly cost of common purchases, adding them together, and then multiplying by 11 months. We rounded the cents to the nearest dollar for figures that were not solid dollar amounts.

The aforementioned additional 50,000 miles was determined by adding up those monthly costs and multiplying by three. The amount exceeds $3,000 and, based on the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card signup bonus, you can earn 50,000 miles when you spend $3,000 using the card within the first three months of opening an account.

The bottom line

Whether you’re stuck at the last minute trying to save on a holiday trip or you have an entire year to save up miles, holiday travel doesn’t have to break the bank. There are lots of things you can do to curb the cost, as well as rewards programs you can take advantage of to make holiday travel easier and more affordable. Don’t let the steep costs of travel keep you from enjoying the holidays.

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