Common Cents: Secrets to Getting the Best Holiday Travel Deal

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The holiday travel season is around the corner and the opportunities to lock in low prices are dwindling fast.

Before you’re stuck with an exorbitantly high price or forced to use your least favorite method of transportation to get from point A to point B: Book your trip now. For those traveling by land start planning your trip now.

The Early Bird Gets the Worm
Hint: The longer you wait to buy a ticket, the higher the cost. As a New York transplant, my holidays are spent in three possible states –Pennsylvania, Maryland or Virginia.

Despite similar distances to each destination, when it comes to Amtrak travel, the price rarely reflects the millage. (As a matter of fact, one of my longest train trips to Canada, was the cheapest ticket I ever purchased.) Going to D.C. for the holidays on Amtrak with a regular fare has ranged anywhere from $69 to $120 based on timing. That’s why if you want to lock in a price on a train ticket, make an early reservation. Here’s a little secret: You can reserve a ticket without payment if you book a train ticket using 1-800-USA-RAIL. Caveat: Travelers are given a specific time period to pay for a reservation before loss of reservation, unless you call back and politely ask for an extension.

Regardless of what route you’re taking on the train, there’s one commonality, the longer the distance between the booking date and travel time, the cheaper the ticket. “As the holiday season approaches, trains are filling up,” says Clifford Cole, of Amtrak. “You want to give yourself a couple of weeks, at least two weeks,” to book a lower fare. Greyhound also offers 20% of regular travel for tickets booked 7 days in advance.

Take Advantage of Web Sites
If you travel by Greyhound look in to e-fare rates that are lower than the normal online and ticket booth price. Before you type in “leaving from” and “going to” information on the home page, click on the icon for e-fare rates, otherwise you will be billed the normal fare. Clicking on the e-fare icon, the fare for a Boston, MA trip to New York, NY is $15, meanwhile the ticket price directly from the home page is $35 (refundable) or $41 (refundable fare). That’s more than DOUBLE the e-fare price. For more, check out the Deals and Discounts page, Amtrak has a host of specials on the Hot Deals section online. Check the weekly specials and advertised specials to see if your destination has a special rate.

Dig for Discounts
Whether you’re booking your trip online or over the phone inquire about a discount, especially if you have AAA or a Student Advantage card. Amtrak offers savings of up to 15% for travelers with an AAA card, International Student Identity Card, Student Advantage Cards and families of the military. Also, children 2-15 ride for half price. Greyhound also offers similar deals, and allows children 2 - 15 to save 40%. On Greyhound and Amtrak children under 2 ride for free.

A few additional tips:

• Book your trip for early in the morning or late at night if you’re traveling by Amtrak for a cheaper rate.

• If your train is booked, check around 5 a.m. to see if unpaid reservations have been purged.

• For some destinations, check to see if Saturday travel is cheaper than popular travel days, like, Friday and Sunday.

• If you’re traveling by Greyhound on a busy day, consider a $5 board early pass to cut the line.

• Consider bus alternatives, such as Bolt Bus, Washington Deluxe, and Megabus.

Are you traveling for the holiday season? If so, share with us the cost of your travels and your favorite holiday travel story.

A few previous Common Cents columns:

How to Lower Internet Costs

How to Cut Cable Costs

How to Get A Refund on Vacation Travel

Each Thursday, Common Cents looks at curing common money problems. Write to Lyneka.little@thestreet.com or place your story suggestions in the comment section below.

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