Spending

4 ways to save on last-minute holiday travel

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Black Friday and Cyber Monday came and went, but you can still save money on holiday travel on Travel Tuesday, a lesser-known shopping holiday dedicated to scoring deals on hotels and airfare with discounts of up to 40%, according to hotel and airfare tracking site Hopper — and beyond.

If you're still in the market for a trip this holiday season, it's not too late, says Nick Ewen, senior editor at The Points Guy, and you won't necessarily have to pay a premium.

Ewen shared four ways to get a good deal on last-minute travel.

1. Fly on holidays

Book a flight on off-peak dates and holidays to save money, Ewen says. "If you can fly out on Christmas night or something like that, that would generally be a cheaper option than if you were to wait until the end of that following weekend and fly out the 29th. Flying on New Year's Day also tends to be at a slightly lower fare option."

If you aren't limited by your work and kid's school schedules, flying on weekdays instead of weekends can help you save. "If you can, be flexible with your dates. Most airlines do provide flexible date search options where [you] can quickly compare one day to another."

In some cases, you could be looking at savings of up to $400 per person just by coming home a day or two later, or leaving a day or two earlier, Ewen says.

2. Look for last-minute award travel

"Airlines tend to raise their prices pretty significantly during the holiday season, but those prices can sometimes be a deterrent for people booking," Ewen explains. As the holiday rush approaches, airlines may have unsold seats they need to get rid of, so they may open up those seats for last-minute award flights for travelers redeeming miles. "That could be an opportunity to put your points or miles to really good use. If you can use 20,000 miles for a $500 plane ticket, that's a pretty fantastic value."

The holidays are also prime time for discounted upgrades, Ewen says. Airlines reward frequent flyers with tiers of "status," which come with perks like access to airline lounges, seat upgrades, or free snacks.

Since "road warriors" or frequent business travelers tend to stay home over the holidays, lower-tier status holders often receive complimentary upgrades, Ewen says. "It's not unheard of during the holiday season for a silver or a gold member to score an upgrade to first class on a flight that, you know, two weeks later in the middle of a work week, they might be No. 50 on the upgrade list."

3. Set up pricing and award alerts

In order to take advantage of last-minute holiday airfare discounts, use Google Flights to set up price tracking, Ewen says. "It'll actually email you whenever a price changes, either up or down, and there's some settings that you can play with."

One way to set up price tracking is to enable alerts for when the price drops by a certain amount, which Ewen does himself. "I'm personally monitoring a flight home after an international trip," he says. "I set up an alert on Google flights where every time it drops by a certain dollar amount, it'll send me an email saying, 'Hey, this flight is now, you know, $50 cheaper.'"

In addition to Google Flights, websites like Hopper, Skyscanner, and Hipmunk also help travelers track airfare and hotel prices.

4. Protect against unexpected costs

Aside from saving on the initial costs associated with traveling, protect yourself against the unexpected, Ewen says: "In general, if you are booking last-minute travel, you definitely want to use a card that offers you solid travel protection."

That means, during the winter, when the weather is dicey, purchase a plane ticket, train ticket, or hotel room with a card that offers trip delay coverage. "We saw just this past week with the triple whammy of storms that came through. Lots of delays, lots of cancellations. ... If it's weather related, an airline generally won't pay for your hotel room, but if you've used a credit card, and you're eligible for a trip delay coverage, you can get reimbursed for that hotel," he says.

Credit cards that offer comprehensive trip insurance can have annual fees that cost as much as $550 a year, but the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, for example, only charge $95 a year. The exact terms of reimbursement vary by the individual credit card, so read the fine print, he says.

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