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Study identifies cheapest days for holiday travel

Travelers move through the Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on July 1.

Travelers move through the Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on July 1. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)


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SAYRE, Pa. — More than half of all Americans plan to take at least one leisure trip this holiday season — and 29% are hoping for more than one. Traveling during the holidays can prove challenging, particularly when doing it on a budget. After two years of travel disruptions due to the pandemic, many people are eager to travel for celebrations with friends and family.

It can take some due diligence and planning to find the best days and ways to travel on a budget during the holidays.

Travel booking platform Wanderu undertook a survey on the best days to travel, by bus and train, for the holidays. The study also highlights inflation's impact on holiday travel costs compared to previous years.

Days to Travel

One of the first determinations made when booking holiday travel is the specific days on which to travel, and prices fluctuate depending on the day of the week and how far ahead of the holiday it is.

For example, the study found for Christmas travel, bus tickets are cheaper on a weekday, such as Monday and Tuesday before the holiday, instead of waiting until later in the week. The same is true for train tickets. Traveling earlier in the week can save passengers 12% on a bus ticket and 23% on a train ticket.

When it comes to returning home after Christmas, there's not much difference in which travel day after the holiday is over, on a bus. If using the rails for travel, it is recommended to wait a few days and travel back later in the week than the day immediately afterward.

Casandra Karpiak, a travel writer and founder of Savoteur, thinks the study is accurate about traveling on the day of the holiday, or the day before, given that most people have limited vacation days to use for special occasions.

She says, "The study about the best days to travel by bus for holidays is spot on. Vacation days are limited for most Americans, and they hope to use them wisely. Not everyone can travel three days before a holiday to spend a few extra days with family and still keep enough vacation days for that dream holiday they wish to take."

Polina Raygorodskaya, CEO at Wanderu, offers two strategies for booking the cheapest holiday travel.

"Traveling on alternate days is one reliable method to avoid inflation's worst impacts," she says. "The other strategy is to book as early as possible, as prices will only go up as the holidays get close."

When to Book

As noted by Raygorodskaya, the adage of booking travel as early in advance of the travel as possible will generate the cheapest fares and is something most experts recommend.

However, if finalizing those travel plans arises last minute-closer to the holiday itself-it can sometimes prove fruitful as companies try to fill empty seats. The study offered that sometimes seats can be $5 or $10 when extra vehicles are added to the fleet last minute on high-demand routes, mainly by bus.

"Whether you're traveling by plane, train, or bus, the cheapest time to travel during the holiday season is most often on the actual holiday itself," said Monica Fish, Founder of the Travel Site, Planner at Heart. "So if you're tight on money, consider traveling early the day of so you can afford to go, but don't miss out on the celebrations."

Pricing Trends

The survey also looked at price comparisons between 2021 and this year, mainly due to the threat of rising inflation. They expect travelers to pay higher fares in 2022 compared to a year prior, with bus tickets being around 13% higher and train tickets being 51% higher to travel around Christmas.

"Although bus and train travel is generally more inflation-resistant than other travel methods, we're seeing ticket prices rise to meet higher demand during the weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas," says Wanderu's Raygorodskaya. "Since tickets during holiday weeks will cost up to 68% more than last year, travelers will find it difficult to find any opportunities to save.

Other Holiday Travel Methods

For many, bus travel has emerged as a leading way to travel on a budget. Wanderu's study only featured travel by bus and train over the holidays, as is their primary focus.

Not all travelers, though, can or prefer to travel via bus or train, whether it be because of the distance of their destination, the amenities, or time constraints.

Karpiak says that while bus travel has its advantages, the main disadvantage is time because many people can't spend time sitting on a bus when flying to a destination can take far less time.

"Travelers also need to be well prepared in advance of bus travel and pack food, have a portable charger on hand and electronics fully charged," she says. "There are no bus attendants serving you food or drinks, and the amenities are limited. You need to be prepared if you get stranded due to bad weather."

She also recommends other ways to find cheap travel around the holidays. She utilizes FlyerTalk Forums to find great deals and always discovers new tips and travel news.

Want to make plans but need help figuring out where to go? Fish also detailed some festive Christmas trips that can be taken for those still looking for some inspiration on where to go this year.

When planning holiday travel on a budget, planning early and being willing to check alternative days of travel will aid travelers in securing the cheapest fares. Traveling by bus or rail may also yield the best deals for those wanting to ensure they don't miss their celebrations.

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Kelley Dukat

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