3 Tips to Keep Your Holiday Travel Costs (and Stress) in Check

Vacation travel in 2022 is expected to continue to return to pre-COVID-19 levels, according to travel booking app Hopper. That means we’re out and about more, at the airport, jostling for plates of overcooked turkey and mashed potatoes. For many Americans, that trip comes at a hefty price, often paid for with a credit card.

A new NerdWallet poll found that 44% of Americans plan to spend money on flights or hotels during the 2022 holiday season. Of those leisure travelers, about two-thirds (66%) plan to load some or all of their bills onto their credit card.

If you’re planning to join the ranks of leisure travellers, here are some tips to help you get through the season with as little financial stress as possible.

The central theses

  • Compare the cost and hassle of travel methods because the way you’ve always done it may still not be the best.

  • Check out ways to reduce your credit card spend or pay off your balance faster in 2023.

  • The best time to look at cards with better fares and perks is before you start buying airline tickets and booking hotels.

1. Compare travel options

The way you’ve always traveled doesn’t have to be the way you always travel. As creatures of habit, we often follow the same familiar routes to get from A to B, even when other routes may be faster, cheaper, or more efficient.

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According to the US Energy Information Administration, from September 2021 to September 2022, the price of gas increased by 16.7%. If you used to save $100 on driving to Grandma’s house, you might be saving a lot less now, if anything. Our survey found that 20% of leisure travelers plan to fly rather than drive because of fuel prices.

Conversely, you may have always flown. As airports fill up again with travellers, more flights are being delayed or cancelled. According to the Department of Transport, by July this year, 21% of flights had been delayed by 15 minutes or more and 3% had been cancelled. The survey found that 29% of leisure travelers are now planning to drive due to recent airline issues.

Whether it’s cutting costs or avoiding headaches, rethinking your usual flight versus driving calculations can be a helpful first step toward a hassle-free vacation trip.

2. Start saving and schedule paybacks

No matter how you get there, vacation travel is an expensive proposition for many Americans. While 66% of vacation travelers intend to put some or all of their vacation travel expenses onto a credit card, many also hope to save to pay for their plans, according to our survey. Just over a third (36%) of leisure travelers say they cut back on their daily spending to save money on that trip.

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With interest rates expected to continue rising through 2023 — according to a Federal Reserve survey — the cost of borrowing with credit cards should also continue to rise. By putting money aside for groceries, you can avoid increasing your post-holiday debt obligations.

However, if you’re pulling out the plastic for your vacation trip, you should at least have a plan for how much you’re going to spend and how you’re going to pay off that debt in 2023. Of those who used a credit card to spend some of their 2021 vacation trips, 7% in our survey said they still haven’t paid for those expenses, and another 14% told us it took them five to 12 months have to pay off their debts.

To avoid looming your flights or gas bills over your July 4th next year, make a repayment plan for yourself. You can start with NerdWallet’s credit card repayment calculator to find out what you need to pay back. Then work that payment into a monthly plan so you can pay off your debt and start saving for the 2023 holiday season.

3. Check your credit card options

According to our survey, leisure travelers who say they use their credit cards to pay for vacation-related expenses plan to spend an average of $1,417 on those cards.

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Spending that much in a short amount of time may give you new options when it comes to card rewards or offers. Many credit card companies offer bonus rewards if you spend a certain amount in the first few months of owning a card. If you already plan on spending money, you can also get a benefit where you can.

You may also receive benefits that will ease your travel headaches. Many travel cards offer additional points when you book travel, credit on your annual bill for travel purchases, or reimbursement for programs that allow you to get through airport security faster or easier (like Global Entry or TSA PreCheck).

You may also find that your current card has a less attractive APR if it’s holding a $1,400 balance from the holidays. In that case, it may be worth considering a new balance transfer card to push your travel expenses into the new year. These cards offer 0% APR on transfers, giving you more time to pay off your debt without paying interest.

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Andrew Marder writes for NerdWallet. Email: [email protected]

The article 3 tips to keep your holiday travel expenses (and stress) in check originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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