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3 moves that can help you save money on a holiday vacation

Twenty/20

You may have missed your chance to get the lowest-priced flights for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but if you're flexible about when you go and where you stay, you can still score a good deal.

"If you're looking to book any type of travel, especially holiday travel, the best time to book is three to four months before the trip. Although it's not too late [to get good deals] if you're looking for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's," says Victoria Walker, a reporter for The Points Guy.

Here are three moves you can still make to save money on a holiday vacation.

Cash in your rewards points

Travel rewards points can be a great way to fund your holiday vacation, says Walker: "Check and see if you have miles that you haven't paid attention to this year." You may be sitting on more points than you realize.

Nearly a third, or 29%, of rewards-card holders let their points expire, and nearly half (46%) lost airline or hotel rewards because they expired, according to a 2019 Bankrate survey of 2,558 adults. Generally, 10,000 points/miles are worth anywhere from $100 to $199.

"Check your miles because you may be able to find cheap flights, if not the week of the holiday, around the holiday," she says. And if you have $50,000 unused rewards points or miles, that can be $500 to $995 you can put towards your trip.

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Video by Mariam Abdallah

Be flexible on travel dates

Flight prices go up around the holidays. The average round-trip domestic flight costs $306 in November and jumps to $325 in December, according to SkyScanner.

You may score a better deal on last-minute flights if you're flexible about your travel dates. Walker says you can save the most on hotels and airfare by arriving or departing on the holiday itself: December 21 is the most expensive day to travel around Christmas, while "Christmas day is the cheapest to travel."

Let's say you're traveling solo from Boston, Massachusetts, to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. You can find round-trip tickets flying out December 25 and returning on December 29 for $420, according to SkyScanner. Low-cost flights typically include a layover, but if you want to cut out the extra travel time, you can find a nonstop flight on the same dates for $519, as of late October.

If you wanted to travel on December 21 and come back December 29, though, a nonstop round-trip ticket will cost upwards of $644, according to SkyScanner.

"You want to be as flexible as possible," says Walker.

Fare flex
Being flexible about when you leave for your holiday trip can shave hundreds off your travel costs.
Average domestic round-trip airfare for Thanksgiving and Christmas 2019, based on departure date
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kiersten schmidt/grow Hopper

Stay with friends or family

Accommodations, like tickets, tend to cost more around the holidays. If you travel to Fort Lauderdale on December 25 and leave four days later on December 29, you can stay at The Westin Fort Lauderdale for $165 per night, or $660 for four nights.

A great way to save money and get extra joy out of a holiday trip is staying with friends or family instead, says H. Jude Boudreaux, a certified financial planner and partner at The Planning Center in New Orleans, Louisiana: "Something I encourage people to consider, even though it may not be comfortable, is thinking about staying with the people you're going to visit."

He suggests chipping in for groceries holiday gifts in order to save money on dining out and helping your host cover the grocery bill.

Consider that staying with the people you love can actually enhance your trip, he says: "If the purpose of [your] trip is to see a family member, then you can save yourself the cost of accommodations and get to have those memorable conversations that happen over a nightcap or over an early morning cup of coffee."

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