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6 Money-Saving Thanksgiving Travel Tips

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
October 12, 2018
Airport runway planes
Ken Cole/Dreamstime
​Here’s how to spend less time and money getting to your Thanksgiving destination and more time enjoying your time off.

Sure, the week of Thanksgiving is one of the most hectic travel periods of the year, with tens of millions of people expected to fly between November 16 and 27. But that doesn’t mean Turkey Day has to break the bank. Here, our best-ever money-saving tips.

1. THE BEST DAYS TO TRAVEL FOR THANKSGIVING

To save money and hassle this year, travel November 16 through 20 or on Thanksgiving Day itself. For the return trip, hold off till Monday November 26 or try Black Friday, when so many people are busy shopping.

2. IS IT TOO LATE TO GET A DEAL ON AIRFARE?

Sure, it’s late to buy Thanksgiving airline tickets, but look for last-minute deals with our friends at Skyscanner.com and be flexible with your dates and airports. Coast-to-coast flights for under $500 are still out there.

3. ARE SUPER-LOW-COST AIRLINES REALLY A GOOD DEAL?

If that $30 last-minute flight to Grandma’s house seems too good to be true, I promise it probably isn’t true: It is a rock-bottom basic fare and you will be charged extra for everything from choice of seat (really) to checked bags (of course) and maybe even for your carry-on bag. It doesn’t mean you shouldn't book a super-low-cost flight, it just means you must read the terms and conditions and know what you’re getting into before you hit “purchase.”

4. TREAT YOURSELF TO A HOTEL FOR THANKSGIVING

Surprise! In survey after survey, up to 7 out of 10 travelers admit they really don’t like staying with relatives for Thanksgiving (but surveys also suggest most people suck it up, stay with relatives, and pretend to enjoy it). The good news is, hotels are often underbooked around Thanksgiving and you can find deals even at the last minute. Hotels that cater to business travelers - such as suites and airport hotels - are especially affordable on holiday (and non-holiday) weekends.

5. BEAT HOLIDAY TRAFFIC BY DRIVING AT NIGHT

Glamorous? Nope. Tried and true? Yup. You’ll hit less traffic if you hit the road after dark, let the kids sleep, and catch a nap before your turkey dinner.

6. PSST! HERE'S A NATIVE NEW YORKER'S SECRET FOR VISITING THE MACY'S PARADE

This tip is based on my personal experience as a native New Yorker: If you’re traveling to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, take public transportation or park your car on the far West Side of Manhattan and head for Central Park West below 77th Street, where the parade starts out with its high energy, giant balloons, marching bands, and iconic views of the park.

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Travel Tips

Travel 101: Read This Before You Buy Trip Insurance

Do you need travel insurance? When a natural disaster strikes—such as the hurricanes, floods, mud slides, and wildfires that have hit the U.S. in recent years—travel arrangements get disrupted across the country. Airports shut down. Highways close. Sadly, now is a good time to get up to speed on travel insurance. When you’re traveling, it’s important to have the proper protection in case something goes wrong, like a flight cancellation, lost luggage, or medical emergency. Yet only 21% of Americans purchase travel insurance, according to a study from The Points Guy. Why? “When people are planning a trip, they don’t plan for the unexpected,” says John Cook, founder of QuoteWright.com, a travel insurance comparison site. “They don’t think about the risks that are associated with travel.” Christopher Elliott, a consumer advocate and co-founder of the advocacy group Travelers United, agrees: “People don’t think twice about buying car insurance or homeowner’s insurance, but a lot of people just overlook travel insurance,” he says. Another reason people don’t purchase travel insurance is because “it can be a complicated topic, which can make the product less accessible for a lot of people,” says Stan Sandberg, co-founder of TravelInsurance.com, a U.S. travel insurance provider Granted, travel insurance isn’t right for everyone. Whether you should purchase it will ultimately depend on the type of trip you’re planning, what type of coverage you need, and how much you’re willing to spend. Here’s what you need to know before you purchase travel insurance. There are two types of travel insurance You have “named peril” policies and “cancel for any reason” policies. A named peril policy only offers coverage for certain events, or “perils,” such as a cancelled flight, lost luggage, or death in the family prior to the trip. Each policy spells out exactly what’s covered and what’s not (these are called “exclusions”), says Cook. The second type of travel insurance is a “cancel for any reason” policy, which is exactly like it sounds—the insurance company will pay you a percentage of any nonrefundable travel expenses regardless of why you cancel your trip. Naturally, this extra coverage costs more; Cook says it can add up to another 50% of the cost of the insurance policy. But be aware you won’t get reimbursed for the full costs of your trip. “Generally, you get $0.75 on the dollar,” Cook says, “but there’s a blackout period of two days before your departure during which you can’t cancel for any reason.” Therefore, you still need to be diligent and find out what your “cancel for any reason” insurance plan would cover. Planning an international trip? Buy medical coverage Most health insurance policies, including Medicare, don’t offer medical coverage when you’re traveling outside the U.S., which is why Elliott strongly recommends buying medical coverage. Typically, covered medical expenses are costs incurred for necessary services and supplies, such as a doctor’s visit, prescription drugs, or hospital stay, but coverage will depend on the type of policy you buy. One thing you want to make sure you get is coverage for an emergency medical evacuation, since it can cost you “well over $100,000 if you don’t have coverage,” Cook says. “It’s especially important if you’re going on a rock-climbing trip or something adventurous,” he adds. You may already be covered Some credit cards offer trip cancellation, medical, and/or baggage insurance if you pay for the trip with the card. For example, if your travel is interrupted or canceled due to injury, sickness, severe weather or other conditions, you can be reimbursed for prepaid travel expenses such as flights and hotel rooms for up to $10,000 per trip with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. However, some credit cards only offer “very basic coverage,” says Cook, so be careful when evaluating what coverage your credit card company provides. Typically, there’s a limit for expenses incurred from flight cancellation If your flight gets cancelled, your travel insurance company will normally provide for lodging arrangements, meals, and transportation to and from the airport so that you're not stuck in an airport waiting for your next flight. (That’s assuming the airline doesn’t pay for these costs.) But policies have coverage limits. “With most policies, you get up to $150 a day per person,” Cook says. (Read: you better review your policy before you check into the Four Seasons!) Keep your receipts Let’s say your luggage gets lost or stolen. If you purchased baggage coverage, you’ll most likely have to pay for essential items (e.g., clothes, toiletries) out of pocket and then submit a claim to the insurance company when you get home. However, you’ll need to submit receipts to get reimbursed. “If it’s under $100, you [typically] just email the receipts and the company will transfer the money to your debit card or cut you a check,” Elliott says. “It’s a fast process.” If it’s a large claim though, you may have to submit the paperwork by mail and it could take several days for the insurance company to process the claim. The moral: before you leave for your trip, make sure you have enough cash with you (or on your debit card) to pay for essential items. Why travel insurance costs vary Cook says travel insurance prices are based on three factors: your age, the cost of your trip (generally in $500 increments), and the length of your trip if you’re traveling for more than 30 days. Hence, the same travel insurance policy (assuming it has medical coverage) could cost a 70-year-old person more than it would a millennial, since older people have more health risks. In general, however, travel insurance costs 5% to 7% of the price of the vacation, says the Insurance Information Institute, so a $5,000 trip would cost roughly $250 to $350 to insure. Travel a lot? Consider buying an annual policy If you’re a frequent business traveler or take more than two vacations a year, it may be worth purchasing an annual travel insurance plan, Elliott says. Most annual plans offer a year's worth of protection for medical, property, and trip costs. You can use a website like QuoteWright.com, TravelInsurance.com, or SquareMouth.com to compare policies. Of course, you always want to read the fine print—and don’t simply sign up for the cheapest policy. As Sandberg says, “travelers need to find the right plan, at the right price for them.” 

Travel Tips

Take Control of Weather-Related Flight Delays and Cancellations

Nobody wants their vacation delayed before it even starts. But bad weather can sometimes keep planes grounded. Worse, some airlines—and sometimes even hotels and rental-car companies—will invoke bad weather, or "Acts of God" as an excuse for cancellations that may actually be due to mechanical problems or other mishaps. Why would an airline blame the weather for a delay or cancellation? Airlines are not legally obligated to provide travelers with lodging or meals if a delay or cancellation is due to weather. But you are not powerless in these situations. Here, The Air Traveler's Take-Control Cheat Sheet: RESEARCH WEATHER AND CONTINGENCY PLANS  In the days before you fly, check a reliable source such as The Weather Channel for weather forecasts for your departing airport, any connecting stops, and your destination. Also, as a precaution, keep a list of hotels at each of those airports (an app such as Hotel Tonight can put this info at your fingertips). Oh, and stock up on chocolate bars for your carry-on bag (more on that later). STAY INFORMED  Check on your flight before you leave the house or on your way to the airport. For most people, the nastiest thing about a flight delay or cancellation is that punch-in-the-gut moment when you're standing in front of an airport monitor learning that your vacation is not going to start on time. Use TripAdvisor's GateGuru app to check weather conditions and flight schedules before you get to the airport. (And make sure you've got chocolate in your carry-on!) YOU'LL GET BETTER SERVICE IF YOU'RE NICE  If your flight is cancelled or delayed, immediately call the airline's reservations number or visit a gate agent. Whoever you speak with, treat them like your new Travel BFF—sure, you're stressed, but a friendly, calm approach (and a complimentary chocolate bar!) may go a long way. Be the customer who isn't throwing a tantrum! Ask to be booked on the next available flight. If you are worried about missing a connecting flight, tell them—airlines can sometimes offer special services to connecting passengers. If no flights are available, politely ask for a hotel and meal voucher—no, they are not obligated to give them to you, but just might anyway because you were as sweet as the chocolate you offered them. BE A LITTLE NOSY  Some travelers like to ask—politely—whether the delay is purely due to weather or perhaps a "combination of weather and other factors." If your airline rep admits that some other factor, such as mechanical problems, is at play, repeat your polite request for hotel and meal vouchers. (But please don't invoke the legendary "Rule 240," which some travelers believe obligates airlines to book them on the next available flight, or a flight on a competing airline. A holdover from the days when airlines where more heavily regulated, Rule 240 won't mean much to most airline personnel these days.) If you are fairly certain that weather was unfairly cited as the cause of a flight delay or cancellation, you can hire a forensic meteorologist to match your flight data with weather conditions and make the case that you are owed compensation for hotel and meals. ASK FOR A "DISTRESSED TRAVELER" RATE  If, despite your best efforts, you are stuck checking into a hotel while you wait for a hurricane, blizzard, or volcanic ash to blow over, ask the hotel if they offer a "distressed traveler" rate. The Hotel Tonight app specializes in last-minute bookings and can really help in these emergency situations. BE INSURANCE-SAVVY  We get asked all the time if travel insurance can protect you from weather-related cancellations. We recommend that you carefully review conventional travel insurance policies due to their high prices and relatively low reimbursement rates. But if you are booking a package tour or cruise, you can often purchase an affordable policy that allows you to cancel for any reason at any time. And if you're traveling anywhere remotely off the grid, appropriate insurance for medical evacuation should be on your list.PACK YOUR CARRY-ON FOR AN EMERGENCY We recommend always packing a carry-on with “emergency” items, but it is especially important when weather threatens your travel plans. Keep a change of clothes, a jacket, and all medication you might need in your carry-on. A sleeping mask and ear plugs are also valuable items to carry with you - they don’t take up much weight, but they are solid gold to have if  you need to catch some zzz’s at the airport.

Travel Tips

Psst! Studying Abroad Might Help You Land a Job

It turns out that studying abroad offers more than just international hookups and easy, legal access to booze before the age of 21. According to a recent survey by the online hostel-booking platform Hostelworld, which provides students and budget travelers alike with cheap accommodations and the opportunity to rub elbows with people from all over the world, those who spend time across the pond in university may have an advantage in the hiring process. Before you dust off your passport and start planning your escape, here's what you need to know.  SWING THE VOTE IN YOUR FAVOR To be sure, studying abroad requires a measure of privilege, but for those who can afford it, the experience may help them stand out in a crowded job market. Like any travelers who spend an extensive amount of time overseas, students who immerse themselves in a new place return with a bevy of marketable skills, from a strong sense of cultural literacy and the ability to adjust to uncomfortable situations to increased people skills and a working knowledge of the global economy. More than a thousand U.S. hiring professionals participated in Hostelworld’s online survey, and 25 percent of them said that studying abroad makes students better at adapting to their environments and gives them a solid foundation for understanding global businesses. Almost a third of respondents actively look for applicants who have studied abroad, with 23.3 percent reporting that if it came down to two equally qualified candidates, they’d choose the one who had lived or traveled internationally. ADD VALUE TO YOUR CANDIDACY Not that college kids need much of an excuse to spend a semester or two off-campus, but there are monetary incentives to consider as well. Study-abroad students may find themselves on the upper end of the pay scale: 41 percent of the employers surveyed would consider making a better offer to someone who has studied abroad, and 16 percent say they’d definitely command a higher salary. PICK THE BEST DESTINATION FOR YOUR GOALS (Stephane Debove/Dreamstime)It’s not all fun in the sun, though. Undergrads looking for a leg up on the competition would do well to consider which port of call will serve them best in the coming years, and—spoiler alert!—the sandy beaches of the Caribbean probably won't do the trick. Given China’s ever-growing economic power and the proliferation of Americans doing business there, Hong Kong and the mainland are popular with hiring personnel, as are Paris, London, and Mexico City. 

Travel Tips

How to Find Shoulder Season Bargains for Fall

Fall is on the way, and that means Shoulder Season bargains. We've put together this cheat sheet, based on recent trends and our best expert intel, for autumn savings: 1. "SHOULDER SEASON," DEMYSTIFIED We call this time of year Shoulder Season because, in a lot of popular destinations, it’s between the high summer season and the low winter season. The weather is perfect in September and October, but the summer crowds are gone. We'll see airfares and hotel rates drop in popular summer destinations as summer turns to fall, including beach towns, National Parks, theme parks, and European cities. 2. HOW TO BOOK A FALL HOTEL DEAL To take advantage of lower Shoulder Season rates, you've got to do your homework: Visit a web resource (such as our Book a Hotel page) and compare rates from late August and early September (a.k.a., right now) with rates a few weeks later. You'll often see hotels in popular summer destinations, including the Jersey Shore, New England, and the Carolinas, drop their rates by as much as half as summer turns to fall. You may find that already reasonable destinations, like Myrtle Beach, become even more affordable in fall, and pricier spots like Nantucket can be within reach  of Budget Travelers. Pounce on a rate that's right for you. 3. VACATION RENTALS CAN SAVE YOU BIG But if you're traveling in a party of more than four people, a vacation rental like HomeAway or Airbnb may be the way to go. Don't be put off by rates over $200/night until you've compared the rental to the cost of two (or more) hotel rooms. A spokesperson for HomeAway recently let us know that they are seeing savings of 10 percent or more on Shoulder Season bookings. 4. KNOW THE BEST TIME TO BUY PLANE TICKETS This is actually the question we get asked most often is: When is the best time to buy plane tickets. The answer has been, traditionally, roughly two months ahead of your flight -- that's typically when airlines have lowered fares as much as they are going to. But as we've reported, the rules of airline bargains are evolving. Of course, for travel in September and October, we're already past that window, so the best day to book a flight might be...right now. Our partners at Skyscanner crunched the numbers for fall travel and noted that late August (this week, actually) may be the best time to book a Thanksgiving flight, with decent savings also available to those who book during the month of September. 5. FOLLOW YOUR FAVORITE TRAVEL BRANDS ON SOCIAL MEDIA We also always recommend following all the major airlines, hotels, and package tour companies on social media and to sign up for their e-newsletters, so you'll be among the first to learn about flash sales and deals. And, right on cue, airlines will start rolling out Shoulder Season sales in September - happy travels!

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