How to save on flights, ac­com­mo­da­tions this Christ­mas

If you are not go­ing too far, train and buses are a good op­tion to beat high prices

The Niagara Falls Review - - Business - ALEK­SAN­DRA SA­GAN

The win­ter hol­i­days can be an ex­pen­sive time to travel for many Cana­di­ans, but with some plan­ning it’s pos­si­ble not to break the bank dur­ing an al­ready ex­pen­sive sea­son, fre­quent trav­ellers say.

“If you can keep your cost of ac­com­mo­da­tion and trans­porta­tion low, ev­ery­thing else is gravy,” said Nora Dunn, a full-time trav­eller for about 12 years who shares her ex­per­tise on her blog, The Pro­fes­sional Hobo.

“Un­for­tu­nately ... travel around the hol­i­day times tends to come at a pre­mium,” she said.

Trans­porta­tion costs surge over peak travel times, like the days be­fore and af­ter Christ­mas. A scan of air­line prices for routes be­tween ma­jor Cana­dian cities shows hefty hikes the Fri­day and Satur­day be­fore Christ­mas com­pared to the same days the pre­vi­ous week.

For rel­a­tively close dis­tances, driv­ing, bus, or tak­ing the train can be less ex­pen­sive, though it may eat into more va­ca­tion time. But for those who must fly, it’s worth check­ing any re­wards points bal­ances and whether the pro­gram of­fers re­deemable flights dur­ing hol­i­days, said Barry Choi, a per­sonal fi­nance blogger who fo­cuses on travel.

If the bal­ance is low or dates are blacked out, he re­minds trav­ellers that bud­get air­lines Swoop and Flair have re­cently launched in Canada. While they some­times fly to cities close to ma­jor in­ter­na­tional air­ports, such as Hamilton rather than Toronto, they can of­fer a lower fare.

How­ever, trav­ellers should check how much ex­tras such as a carry-on or checked bag will cost them be­fore book­ing, he said, as that may close the gap be­tween a bud­get and stan­dard air­line fare.

Dunn rec­om­mends us­ing web­sites or apps, like Hop­per, to track prices and de­cide on the best time to buy. Users can in­put their de­sired route and travel dates into Hop­per up to a year in ad­vance, and the app sends a no­ti­fi­ca­tion when it ex­pects the cheap­est fare is on of­fer.

Book­ing early is the best way to save money, said Stephen Wey­man, who founded HowToSaveMoney.ca and a credit card com­par­i­son site. For those still wait­ing to book for this hol­i­day sea­son, he rec­om­mends they do so soon.

“I wouldn’t wait any longer. You should book right away,” he said.

Last year, the least ex­pen­sive do­mes­tic round-trip prices were ad­ver­tised un­til about the mid­dle of Oc­to­ber, ac­cord­ing to Hop­per’s data, when fares av­er­aged roughly $652.

Fares started to rise about a dol­lar a day 15 to 25 days be­fore de­par­ture, and $7 a day in the fi­nal two weeks, ac­cord­ing to Hop­per.

Flex­i­ble travel dates out­side of the days just around the hol­i­days can help keep costs low, said Wey­man.

The cheap­est days to fly are Dec. 18 with a New Year’s Eve re­turn, the com­pany said. The sec­ond least ex­pen­sive de­par­ture dates are Christ­mas Eve or Dec. 19.

The best day of the week to book an in­ter­na­tional or do­mes­tic flight de­part­ing from Canada is Sun­day, ac­cord­ing to Ex­pe­dia, while the most ex­pen­sive day to do so is Fri­day.

The other big bud­get item is ac­com­mo­da­tions, though hope­fully most peo­ple trav­el­ling to spend time with fam­ily over the hol­i­days will be able to stay with their rel­a­tives.

“That’s the no. 1 tip, right? Stay with fam­ily,” said Wey­man.

For those who run up against a full house or want their own space, there are still good ho­tel op­tions, he said, point­ing to web­sites like Hotwire that of­fer sav­ings for peo­ple will­ing to book a ho­tel only know­ing where it’s lo­cated, its rat­ing and some other per­ti­nent in­for­ma­tion — but not the name.

Ex­pe­dia data shows it’s al­most 25 per cent less ex­pen­sive for Cana­di­ans to book a ho­tel for the hol­i­days with zero to six days left be­fore de­par­ture.

Home rental sites, like Airbnb, can be cheaper, es­pe­cially if a large group splits the cost, said Wey­man. If the rental has a kitchen, peo­ple can also save money on eat­ing out by cook­ing more for them­selves.

Dunn sug­gests get­ting a bit cre­ative and think­ing be­yond just ho­tels.

The self-pro­fessed ex­pert at finding free al­ter­na­tives rec­om­mends seek­ing out house-sit­ting op­por­tu­ni­ties, couch surf­ing op­tions or home ex­changes. Sev­eral web­sites ex­ists to fa­cil­i­tate these trans­ac­tions.

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