2016 holiday travel guide: When to drive, how to book and where to save

Thanksgiving is only a couple weeks away. Do you really want to wait until the last minute to plan your holiday travel? Not this year.

You don’t need me to tell you that the airports and roads will be busier than ever, or that travel somehow feels different from last year. (You’d be right on both counts.) But what does it take to save time and money, and not lose your mind? To answer those questions, I turned to the experts.

Most holiday travel takes place by car. During the long Thanksgiving weekend in 2015, almost 42 million Americans hit the road, but just 3.6 million people flew, according to AAA. Gas prices are predicted to fall to an average of $2.13 in November, according to the site GasBuddy.com. That’s the lowest level since March. If you can wait a few weeks, you’ll save even more. A gallon of unleaded fuel will average just $2.01 in December. In other words, the roads will be crowded, but getting to your destination is cheap.

Here’s some useful advice from Waze, a community-based traffic and navigation app. It crunched the holiday traffic data and found that the best time to leave for your trip is Thanksgiving morning. If you start your drive before noon, you’ll avoid most traffic. The day before that is the worst, with increased usage from late morning until the end of the day. Waze also found a 33 percent increase in accident alerts, a 26 percent increase in hazard alerts and a 20 percent increase in traffic jam alerts on that day. The Tuesday before Thanksgiving is good, however, as long as you leave early. Best day to drive back? Monday. Get an early start. Avoid Sunday.

If you plan to fly in December, this is the ideal time to book a ticket. The best fares for larger airports can be found about six weeks before your departure date, according to data from Hipmunk, an online travel site. You’ll average a 14 percent discount over this year’s costliest holiday tickets. If you’re bound for a smaller airport, however, the lowest fares are available about two months out. If you missed the cutoff, great deals can still be found in the two weeks before Thanksgiving. Set a fare alert on your favorite travel site to make sure you stay on top of things.

Another travel site, Skyscanner.com, suggests you might want to spend part of your Thanksgiving week shopping for Christmas airfares. Historical data indicates you’ll save about 6 percent off your airfare. If you miss sales, don’t worry. The week of Dec. 5 will offer a 5 percent savings. That’s also the ideal time to book for the New Year’s holiday, with savings of almost 7 percent.

If you’re planning to stay at a hotel, prepare for sticker shock. Rates are up about 5 percent this year and they’re projected to go even higher in 2017 (up from 3 percent to 5 percent in North America, according to projections by the research firm Advito). Hotel prices rise and fall with demand, although they’re typically less volatile than airfares. If you want to save money, this might be the year to stay with relatives or try a vacation rental.

Contrarian booking behavior might help you find affordable accommodations. For example, start-up site Sonder.com offers a cross between a short-term rental and hotel. Sonder’s “hometels,” which pass a rigorous inspection before joining its collection, are aimed at business travelers, who don’t do a lot of holiday travel. That could translate into a money-saving opportunity for holiday travelers.

What to expect out there? Two big issues will define the holiday travel season: Zika and terrorism. The spreading Zika virus could create softer demand for warm-weather destinations like the Caribbean and Florida, experts say. But if you’re not pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant, then these destinations could also offer an opportunity to save money. The only exception is Hawaii, which is currently Zika-free. “I anticipate Hawaii becoming very expensive as people seek an alternate warm destination without Zika,” says Clem Bason, chief executive of Goseek.com, a hotel website.

Overall, safety worries will exert the biggest influence on holiday travel, according to several experts I interviewed. As Jim Hutton, the chief security officer at travel risk management company On Call International explains, one significant point will make the 2016 holiday travel season different: increased security.

“The airport attacks in Brussels and Istanbul have already had an impact at airports and major transit stations,” he says. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if security at these locations — as well as destinations where religious or seasonal cultural events are held — are taken up a notch during the holiday travel season.”

The threat of terrorism may affect holiday travel to some destinations, particularly in Europe. With the dollar and euro hovering near parity and continued uncertainty, already low prices could fall even further, observers say. In Paris, the weeks before Christmas and New Year’s are normally a slow time for tourism, but this year, they’ll probably be slower and more affordable than they’ve been in years. “No need to worry about having advance tickets to the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre or reservations for many great restaurants,” says Gary Lee Kraut, a Paris-based editor who publishes the website France Revisited.

No matter how you’re traveling, chances are, you’ll feel the effects of a world that’s on edge. You can avoid the crowds and dodge the high prices, but the only way to cope with the security jitters is to take a deep breath, pack your patience and hope for the best.

Happy holidays!

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirportParkingReservations.com

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at AirportParkingReservations.com, ParkSleepFly.com, AirportParking.com, and ShuttleFinder.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by G1G.com

Since its inception over three decades ago, G1G has continued to revolutionize the travel insurance industry by being the only aggregator to operate a customer portal, placing all of the user's primary needs in one place. We have continued to innovate and disrupt the market by reimagining the way travel insurance can be delivered to the end user in ways no competition can. Simply put, no one knows the market as well as its founders and no one else shares G1G values and mission.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

VisitorsCoverage is one of the world’s most trusted providers of travel insurance for millions of global travelers in over 175 countries. Working with top-rated travel insurance partner providers, VisitorsCoverage’s award-winning search, compare and purchase technology simplifies the travel insurance process and finds the best deals for the coverage you need to explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at VisitorsCoverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend