Money-Saving Holiday Travel Tips

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Go against the crowd. Well, not exactly "antisocial," but going against the crowd can pay off big this time of year. While most folks are racing home, or to family-friendly destinations, crowds thin out in party towns like Las Vegas and New Orleans - which actually put on quite a Christmas celebration. You may find discounted hotel rates and free public events if you're willing to put family, um, second.

Here's when you should buy your holiday plane tickets: For Thanksgiving, book flights about 4 weeks in advance to save as much as 30%, according to Kayak's study of booking trends. For Christmas, book a flight about 3 weeks in advance to save about 5% -- but after that prices start to climb as much as 30% or more! Knowing the best days to fly can save you big, so...

Here's what days are best to fly: You can save BIG if you're willing to be the last one to arrive at your family's holiday dinner. CheapAir.com's  Holiday Flights Index that tells you what days are the best to fly for bargains: Thanksgiving week, you'll save by flying on Monday, Tuesday, Thanksgiving Day, or Friday - avoid Wednesday and Sunday! For Christmas, they suggest the 22nd thru 25th of December for bargains. (Kayak confirms that flying on or close to Christmas can save you 50%.)

Book an early, nonstop flight. Flying early in the day minimizes your chance of being delayed by holdups at other airports.

Prepare early for check-in. If you do have to fly on a super-busy day, take care of as many check-in tasks in advance as possible: Pay for checked bags, find off-airport parking options, and mail gifts to your destination well ahead of your flight date.

To save money, consider staying at a business hotel for the holidays. All-suite hotels such as Homewood Suites and the Residence Inn depend largely on business travelers and are likely to offer lower rates during holiday vacation season.

Don't wrap gifts you're flying with. Kids aren't the only ones who have trouble resisting a pretty package. Screeners at the airport may want to take a peek inside, too.

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