Don't look now, but here come the holidays (really, they're just 11 weeks away!). This year, though, we're going to make planning and budgeting for them a snap.
That’s why we’re starting early, to help you tackle the season step by step—and save time, money and stress. Look for our Guerrilla Guide to the Holidays in your inbox once a week from now until the end of December.
In our countdown, we'll cover everything from booking travel and creating your gift budget to where to get (or make!) the best presents for less.
Follow along with our tasks each week, and we promise that by the end of December, you'll be kicking back with some hot chocolate, your gifts wrapped and everything done and under budget—and ready to ring in the new year.
First up, it's time to decide where you’ll spend each holiday and figure out your travel plans—now. Plan as early as possible to get the best deal on your arrangements, leaving you enough money to get awesome gifts for everyone on your list (stay tuned for next week’s Guerrilla Guide to building the perfect gift list).
Get started with these tips for booking holiday travel:
1. Buy Your Tickets Now
Travel fares will only go up and up as the holidays near, so book now. The Bing price predictor will let you know if fares are expected go up or down within the next week, so you can figure out the ideal day to buy. Once you're ready, check out our chart to find the best online travel comparison sites ... and sigh with relief once you're finally booked. (If for some reason the flight you buy ends up becoming cheaper later on, we like this site to help you get a refund.)
2. Don’t Drive Yourself to the Airport
Airport parking prices take a steep hike around the holidays (which makes sense, because parking is more in demand). See if a friend can drive you to the airport, call a cab or van, or look into public transportation options.
3. Get There Early
It sounds obvious, but it's especially important during the holidays to leave extra time for seasonal travel madness. All your planning will go down the drain if you miss your flight. Assume that there will be tons of traffic and crazy long lines at check-in and security, so be sure to leave extra early. The holidays can be stressful enough—don’t add to it with a mad dash to the departure gate.
4. Don’t Wrap Your Gifts Ahead of Time
We’re usually big fans of doing everything in advance. But with added security around the holidays, TSA personnel may unwrap presents for inspection. Pack some wrapping paper or gift bags in your luggage and wrap once you land.
5. Be Smart About Your Suitcase
Don’t fall prey to overweight baggage fees (here's a rundown of baggage fees and how to avoid them). Pack lightly, weigh your suitcase before leaving so there aren’t any surprises, and register checked bags online before heading to the airport—they often give you a break in the fees if you sign up online. If you're not lugging a lot of gifts, go minimalist and fly with just your carry-on. When the time comes, you can use our guide to making sure everything fits.
6. Get Free Upgrades
We say, there’s no harm in trying! If you’re bumped on an oversold flight, try to negotiate for an upgrade on your next flight (read this for our expert negotiating tips). If you’re a frequent flier or club member with the airline you’re flying with, you can also try to score an upgrade. Arrive early if you plan to try this; it's a lot harder to negotiate in a rush.
Get It Together
If just the thought of budgeting for the holidays—or budgeting in general—makes your heart rate go up, it might be time for our Take Control Bootcamp, where you'll learn how to master your finances. Click Here
7. Fly the Day of the Holiday
This little trick can score you better deals. Most people want to get to their destinations on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, making those flights particularly expensive, and the same goes for Christmas. Check out flights the morning of the holiday itself to see if better deals are available—and tell any skeptical relatives it's better for your budget.
8. Plane, Train or Automobile
Don't disregard other modes of transportation—given how expensive airline tickets are nowadays, it may actually be cheaper to travel by other means. Crunch the numbers, and compare not only the cost, but the amount of time and ease of each method as well. You may find that driving by car, bus or train may actually be your best option—especially since, without air traffic delays, you'll be more or less guaranteed to arrive when you intended.