5 ways to save on last-minute holiday travel

By Lifestyle and Budget Consumer Reports

You may still be packing Halloween decorations back into their boxes before you realize we're just around the corner from Thanksgiving. The last few months of the year tend to race by. Planning an affordable vacation or booking flights and hotels to join family and friends over the holidays might seem impossible now.

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But there is still time. Use our advice to book an affordable last-minute flight and hotel room in time for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, or New Year’s Eve. Enjoy the holidays!
 
–– Mandy Walker (@MandyWalker on Twitter)
Shifting your travel dates by a day or two will often allow you to nab a much lower price. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday are generally the cheapest days to fly.

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If you're traveling with a group, consider splitting up your party when you're searching for deals. If you have four in your group and there are only two cheap seats available, online reservation systems will give everyone higher-price seats. Instead, check the price for one, two, and three seats on the plane, as well as for all four, and then book accordingly.
 
You might also find deals if you fly on a holiday. If you’re flexible enough to fly on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and return on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, airfare savings can be greater still, sometimes by as much as 25 percent to 50 percent, according to Travelchannel.com.

Find the best choices in holiday travel credit cards, and check our Ratings of airlines. Also see our tips on landing a seat using your frequent flyer miles.

When you use price-comparison sites, specify the city you want to depart from, not the airport. Most sites will then show you the flight options for any of that area's airports. Often leaving from one of those other airports will be significantly cheaper.
The best time to shop for flights? Check prices at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday; that's when the greatest number of cheap seats might be available. But bargains can appear at any time, so keep searching and set up alerts that will send you an e-mail or text message when prices on your route drop.

The winter months are also the off-season in European travel hot spots such as London, Paris, Berlin, Venice and Rome. It may be tough to find cheap flights, but deeply discounted hotel rooms may make paying a bit more for flights worthwhile.

Expedia recently offered a rate of $98 a night for a Dec. 22 through 26 stay at the Tune Hotel in London. Travelzoo featured a 4-star hotel in Rome for $123.

Only 28 percent of respondents to one of our surveys tried bargaining for better hotel room rates, yet 78 percent of those who did won an upgrade or a lower rate. (Success rates were higher for people who haggled over the phone than for those who did in person.)

Ask about nonadvertised specials, and use free parking, a different bed size, or room location (for example, if it's next to the laundry station) as bargaining chips.

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