Booking holiday travel plans? You may be better off waiting

There are times when the early bird doesn’t get the worm. Take holiday traveling, for instance. 

One in five Americans have already made their plane reservations for the November-December holiday season, while 23 percent have already booked paid lodging, such as a hotel or Airbnb, according to a new survey from Bankrate.com. But booking airline tickets this early may end up costing travelers money, the financial site said. 

That’s because the best time to buy tickets for December is in early October, while airline ticket prices for Thanksgiving often remain low through Halloween, according to airline tracking service Hopper.com. Booking too early can mean travelers are spending more for their tickets than if they had waited a few more weeks, in other words. 

“There is a sweet spot for booking travel,” said Bankrate.com credit card analyst Robin Saks Frankel. “If you book too early out, you aren’t getting the best deal. If you wait until it’s too close, you aren’t getting the best deal.”

About 35 million adults plan to check into a hotel or other paid accommodation over the holidays, and another 31 million intend on flying, Bankrate found. The study was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, which surveyed more than 1,000 adults living in the U.S.  

Many families may have a perfectly valid reason for booking early and missing out on the best deals, Frankel said. 

“When you want something specific, maybe connecting rooms or a junior suite at a hotel, that would be the reason to book early, not because you are getting a better deal,” she said. “It’s more about getting what you want.”

Almost half of consumers said they expect to have booked their airline tickets by the end of September, Bankrate found. About 44 percent believe they will have booked a hotel or other paid accommodation within the same timeframe. 

If Americans have a fault, it’s planning too far ahead, rather than waiting until the last minute. Procrastinators are in the minority, with the survey finding that just one out of seven travelers plan to wait until December.

In that case, tapping credit card rewards can help defray the cost of traveling, especially if you’re facing higher fares over the holidays. Many consumers might be surprised at how many reward points they have on hand, given that almost one-third of consumers have never redeemed their credit card points.

Lastly, some consumers may want to consider signing up for a high-end credit card with a lucrative sign-up bonus, which are currently offering up to $1,000 in free travel rewards for signing up. These cards also typically include perks such as free checked bags, airport lounge access and free Global Entry or TSA PreCheck enrollment. 

The downside of these elite cards — such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve card or the American Express Platinum card — is that they have high annual fees of about $450, which may not make sense for consumers who don’t travel often enough to justify the cost. 

“If you never travel at all there is no advantage in having those travel rewards cards, but it’s really more about your debt and how you mange your spending,” Frankel said. “If you pay your cards in full, then these can be a terrific way to save money.”

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Source: CBS News – Moneywatch

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