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Thanksgiving is the busiest travel weekend each year. As so many are trying to reach a distant destination in time before the Turkey is carved, Thanksgiving can also be one of the most expensive travel holidays as well. With Christmas right around the corner, many families do not want to spend a fortune to leave town for a few days. If you have a travel credit card, the Thanksgiving travel season might be the perfect opportunity to use those credit card rewards that have been accumulating since your last big trip.
If you are planning to fly to visit your family and friends this Thanksgiving, you might have already missed out on the best flight deals. September is the ideal time to purchase flight itineraries as the fares are lower and, more importantly, good flight times are widely available. If this purchasing window has passed, there are still opportunities to find good deals as Turkey Day approaches, but, you will need to be flexible.
It still is possible to find tickets with September prices in October and early November as the airline carriers work to fill any unsold seats. But, you will probably have to fly the red-eye flights, the first or last flights out for the travel day, or fly on Thanksgiving day or the following Monday to secure the lowest prices. If you are trying to fly a family of four, you might also have to buy one or two tickets at a time, instead of all four, to get the lowest prices possible as many travel websites.
If you have seen a prompt similar to “Two tickets available at …” and the next most affordable tickets for the same flight are several dollars more, and you want to purchase four tickets at once, most travel sites will automatically charge the higher price for all four tickets. It is more hassle to split the purchase, but, the potential cost savings can be worth it.
Using Airfare Credit Rewards
If you have a travel rewards credit card, another option is to forego the third-party booking sites and book directly from the airline or your credit card travel portal using loyalty points. Whether you have a co-branded airline travel credit card that earns frequent flier miles for one specific airline or a general travel card that earns loyalty points that are honored by several airline carriers, you can use credit card points to book your tickets instead of spending cash.
In regards to non-affiliated travel credit cards, redeeming points for airfare usually receive the best point redemption values. It’s also possible that the travel portal will have lower cash prices than the other third-party booking sites or the airline website if you still want to use cash or a mixture of cash and points.
Another travel reward offered by some of the premium travel credit cards is an annual airfare credit of $250 or $300 that can be used to offset the ticket prices. Of course, most of the credit cards that offer these travel credits have an annual fee of $450. It’s still possible to enjoy additional travel benefits, after the ticket is purchased, as a common perk for airline-specific credit cards is a free checked bag.
Whether you fly or drive, you might also need to book a hotel. Most of the potential deals are going to be with airline tickets as they fluctuate the most in price, but, it is possible to find hotel deals as well. You can book through a third-party agency, directly from the hotel, or with a rewards credit card with points. Hotel reward nights might be fairly difficult to reserve as there are normally only so many reward rooms available at each property.
So, it pays to book as early as possible to ensure you can use points instead of cash. If you are traveling off the beaten path, you might be able to stay at a quality hotel brand at some of the less-visited locations. IHG, the parent company of Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express, has a PointBreaks program that allows visitors to reserve a room for only 5,000 points at select properties. A great savings opportunity as most properties cost 15,000 points to 20,000 points per night.
Some of the best hotel credit cards also offer one free night per year as a card reward. You might be able to use this reward night for one of the travel nights and save at least $100 in travel expenses. Another money-saving option is to pay for hotel stays with a mixture of points and cash. This latter option might not be as appealing as a reward night, but paying at a reduced rate is a good option to cut costs and preserve your point balance simultaneously.
Most travel credit cards optimize their rewards to be most valuable when redeemed for air travel. Some rewards are only valid for air travel. If you still need to book a ticket, historically, the most affordable days to travel are Thanksgiving Day and the following Monday. If your schedule is flexible, traveling on either of these days will save you money and time as fewer people will be navigating the highways and airline terminals.
Author: Jeff Gitlen
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