5 Ways to Save on Holiday Travel

The best way to score a deal on a flight? Fly when most people would rather not.

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The holiday season is several weeks away, but now is a great time to start booking that flight or hotel for your Thanksgiving or New Year's celebrations.

According to Kayak.com, you'll find the best deals on holiday flights when you book in mid-October. Fares will start to increase by as much as 25 percent the closer you get to the end of the year.

Whether you're planning a cross-country trip or an overseas getaway, here are five ways to save on holiday travel this year:

1. Don't count on last-minute deals. Taking advantage of last-minute deals can help you reduce travel costs during certain times of the year, but the holiday season isn't a good for this strategy. Don't wait until the last minute to book that flight, hotel or travel package because you run the risk of paying a premium for all travel expenses. Ideally, you will want to book your holiday excursions at least six to seven weeks in advance.

2. Shop the airlines on your own. While it pays to compare prices on several third-party sites, you may be able to get a better deal if you shop around on your own. Keep tabs on average airfare prices posted on a discount airline websites and compare options with third-party travel site search results. (Just keep in mind that not all airlines show up on these sites.) If you book directly with an airline, don't forget to take advantage of rewards credit cards that provide benefits like frequent flier miles or discounts on other travel-related expenses.

3. Fly on the actual holiday. One of the best ways to score a great deal on a flight is to fly when most people would rather not. If you can coordinate your holiday visits so that you fly on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day or even New Year's Day, you may be able to save a significant amount of money on your inbound flight. FareCompare.com reports that the best money-saving days for travel are before Dec. 17 and after Jan. 3. Fares are also low on Christmas Day. Consider booking an early morning flight so you don't miss out on the festivities of the day, or just plan your holiday trip around a celebration that doesn't take place on the actual holiday. Booking a return flight on the actual holiday can also save you some money. Kayak.com reports that travelers returning on Thanksgiving Day could save as much as 20 percent on fares.

4. Be smart about packing. If you're planning to travel with lots of gifts and other holiday items, consider shipping them directly to your destination instead of packing multiple bags. You may be able to save money on checked bag fees, and reduce the risk of having your bags lost or stolen, when you only travel with a carry-on bag and ship everything else. If you planned on packing those gifts in several suitcases, remember that you will likely pay to bring back empty suitcases after the holiday celebrations are over. Save the hassle and costs associated with extra luggage by packing only what you need in your carry-on bag and shipping everything else to your final destination.

5. Consider ground travel for domestic destinations. If you are traveling across a few states or just to another city, consider ground transportation instead of flying. Driving, taking the train or even traveling by bus may end up being cheaper than a flight around the holiday season. If you have the time and patience to coordinate a trip without flying, you may be able to reduce those travel expenses. Use the American Automobile Association's fuel cost calculator to estimate fuel costs for your trip based on current gasoline prices. Amtrak has also started posting its holiday deals for train fares across the country, so make sure to compare prices before choosing your route of transportation.

Sabah Karimi writes for the consumer blog Wise Bread, where you can find 40 travel resources that will save you a bundle.