How Families Can Save Money on Travel This Holiday Season

Inflation and a looming recession are a double whammy for many family travelers this year. Here’s how experts say families can save money on holiday travel.

By Mia Taylor

December is a special month for Aissatou Diallo’s family. Not only is it the birthday month for her 2-year-old toddler, Fatima, but it’s also the wedding anniversary for Diallo and her husband of five years.

To mark the occasions, the Ohio-based family typically plans a getaway each December. In past years, that’s included exploring Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, together and also Atlanta. This year, however, with a looming recession and sky-high inflation, that family tradition is likely going to be put on hold.

“Airline prices are almost double, if not more,” says Diallo, owner of PS Love Tima, an online children’s boutique. “I feel like in past years we could have gotten away with airline ticket prices for around $200 each, now prices are like $497 per person.” The family was hoping to go to Arizona or perhaps California this year.

Even after finding airline tickets to be cost-prohibitive, Diallo didn’t completely give up hope on a winter getaway for her family. Instead, she turned to researching road trips and trying to identify destinations within one day’s driving distance from their home. Gatlinburg, Tennessee, initially looked appealing, but even there, Airbnb prices were well over $300 per night. Again, the family’s travel plans were scrapped amid cost concerns.

“I’m bummed out,” says Diallo. “We have no plans as of right now.”

The Diallo family’s story is hardly unique. The combined realities of inflation and higher-than-expected travel costs this winter are a double whammy that’s making holiday travel challenging—at best—for many families.

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Recession and Inflation—a Double Punch for Family Travelers

A recent survey conducted by TripIt from SAP Concur found that travelers are feeling particularly cautious about the issues of inflation and potential holiday travel disruptions.

Around half of the travelers who took part in the survey (52%) said inflation is the reason they’re having to spend more on travel this winter, while 49% said rising airfare costs specifically are to blame. Of those who will spend more on travel expenses, 40% expect to shell out $1,500 to $5,000 more.

Airline prices aren’t the only factor impacting family travelers. Even budget-friendly family road trips are being second-guessed. This, of course, is due in large part to the soaring cost of gas. Between January and June of this year alone, the price of regular gasoline increased 49%, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

“Road trips will be reassessed for sure. Many travelers will opt for shorter trips and closer destinations,” says Gabe Saglie, senior communications manager for Travelzoo. “And at flyable destinations, travelers may forego the rental car option altogether.”

And the worst may be still to come. “Gas prices are projected to rise even higher between now and November and December thanks to OPEC’s move this week to cut oil production,” says Saglie.

Expert Tips to Cut Family Travel Costs

Despite the uptick in costs, 40% of TripIt users said they’re still planning a winter vacation, while 24% said they are still planning a Thanksgiving trip and 30% will still travel over Christmas and New Year’s.

“People will still travel, it just takes more to get from point A to point B, especially on time and on budget,” says Jen Moyse, senior director of product for TripIt from SAP Concur. “Inflated ticket and gas prices have made travelers cautious with how they are budgeting.”

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Rent an electric vehicle for road trips

If you’re planning a family road trip, consider evaluating the gas mileage on your car to determine whether it would be cheaper or more cost-effective (not to mention more eco-friendly) to rent an electric vehicle for your getaway, says Moyse.

“If you rent an EV, make sure you understand the charging requirements and plan a route with plenty of charging stations,” she adds.

For families embarking on a road trip without an electric vehicle, consider downloading an app like GasBuddy, which helps users find the most affordable fuel stations on a travel route.

Ask for family discounts and bundle

“Ask a representative if you don’t see discounts listed publicly,” says Moyse. “You may be able to score a deal on buses or trains, tours, museums, parks, shows, or even restaurants.”

Travel companies may also offer exclusive deals through social media, newsletters, or their mobile apps to help families save, adds Moyse. It’s also not unusual for airlines, hotels, and other travel companies to offer package deals when you bundle group travel.

Check credit card loyalty programs

Chanin Victor, a California-based mom and travel writer, almost canceled her family’s upcoming trip to Big Sky, Montana, after experiencing sticker shock—the flights would cost about $900 total and car rental would be $1,000 for the week. Instead, they decided to nix the flight and drive and then use their family’s Bonvoy rewards points for a free hotel stay.

Experts recommend you book travel with points early to get the most cost-effective use.

Stay tuned for cyber deals

“Procrastinators will want to keep an eye out in November. Cyber Monday on November 28 promises to feature significant travel bargains,” says Saglie.

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Travelzoo, for instance, is planning to publish an array of one-day deals across all sectors of the travel industry. And while many of those deals will be focused on 2023 travel, some are bound to also include holiday 2022 travel dates, adds Saglie.

“That said, Cyber Monday has evolved over the years to stretch into more than just one single day,” says Saglie. “Families should stay alert during the entire month of November, as many travel companies tap the Cyber Monday momentum early and offer sales and incentives throughout the month.”

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