(BPT) - Nothing beats spending time with loved ones during the holidays, but the process of getting there can leave a lot to be desired. Traffic on the roads, crowds at the airport and expensive plane tickets and hotel rooms may challenge your resolve in maintaining your holiday cheer. But if you plan ahead and are smart about your travel, you won't need to worry about turning into a grinch before you get to your destination.
Just like savvy shoppers know when and where they can find the best deals on holiday gifts, a few simple strategies can get you the best deals on travel and keep your stress level to a minimum. Here are a few ideas that can help you keep money in your pocket and thoughts of peace and happiness in your mind:
* Book early: Whether it's purchasing your flight, hotel or rental car, the holidays are one time that it really pays to beat the rush. As space on flights and hotels becomes scarce, you're not likely to find a very good deal closer to your travel date.
* Compare your options: Use travel sites like Orbitz, Travelocity, Hotels.com and Expedia to find the best prices on flights, hotel rooms and rental cars. Expand your searches to include nearby airports as well, as you may find savings at smaller airports in the surrounding areas. Travel sites may also be able to offer discounts when you book your hotel and rental car at the same time as your flight.
* Look for coupons and deals: Sites like FatWallet.com or Ebates.com aggregate the best deals from the top travel sites and airlines and feature increased cash back rewards during special fall and holiday promotions. Don't just settle for the best price you find on your first search - see if you can apply other coupons and rewards to bring costs down even further.
* Travel during the week: If you have the flexibility, booking your travel as far away from the holiday itself and away from the surrounding weekends can potentially save you a lot of cash. Try a date range search on your favorite travel site to see which days offer the best prices for travel.
* Sign up for alerts: Many travel sites also offer the opportunity to sign up for low price alerts for the destination of your preference. You can also sign up for daily emails from coupon sites. But don't wait too long for the best deal, especially around the holidays - be ready to purchase as soon as you see the right price as it might not be there for long.
* Pay attention to luggage fees: Decide ahead of time how much luggage you will bring and factor luggage fees as you price out plane tickets. If your family plans on checking multiple bags, you may want to pay just a bit extra for tickets from an airline that allows you to check some bags for free. Shopping online for gifts and having them sent directly to your destination can help lighten your load whether you are flying or driving.
* Consider all hotel options: It might be possible to find a deal at a hotel that usually serves business travelers rather than a more family-oriented hotel. If you're just looking for a place to put your head down for the night, this could be a great option.
By looking in the right places and planning ahead, you can save a considerable amount of money on holiday travel, allowing you to spend more on activities or gifts for your loved ones - or simply put your savings in the bank to use on next year's trip.