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Holiday escape savings
5 tips for how you can save money while getting away from it all this season.
December 7, 2005: 4:13 PM EST
By Gerri Willis, contributing columnist

NEW YORK ( - Does preparing for the holidays make you wish you could just hop on the next plane to Hawaii?

You're not alone. In today's top 5 Tips we're going to tell you what you need to know to book your holiday get away.

1. Look forward to cheaper flights

If you wait until after the holiday season, you could get airfare that's five times cheaper, says Tom Parsons, CEO of "You could easily save $1,000," he says.

If you wait until Jan. 9 to fly internationally, you will see better savings. For domestic flights, seats will open up after the 3rd or the 4th.

"The days of super cheap airfares aren't over," says Parsons. Bankrupt airlines are cutting flights at a rapid pace to save costs, and "with less seats and more travelers, you should be planning at least 100 days in advance if you want to find cheap airfare," he said.

2. Get out the suntan lotion!

Your vacation dollars will be better spent on the sand this holiday rather than on the slopes, according to Parsons. He's surprised at the number of deals to Florida.

If you're flying a competitive route, like New York to Florida, you're sure to save at least 30 percent, compared with routes near the slopes.

Warm destinations like San Diego, Las Vegas and Tampa are very reasonable. "Almost every airline flies to Orlando. How many do you see flying into Vail?" says Parsons.

Flying from Dallas to Orlando will cost about $500 roundtrip, while during the same week a roundtrip flight from Dallas to Vail is about $1,300.

Check out this deal from Hawaiian Airlines. A flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu between January 9 and March 15 can cost you as little as $248 roundtrip if you sign on for their free frequent flyer program. That flight would cost you about $1,660 on Delta if you were to book it around now, according to Parsons.

3. Make the fares find you!

Searching for low airfares and keeping track of price changes can be a tedious process. No one wants to miss a deal and overpay for a flight. Rather than clicking and searching all the travel sites, make them work for you.

The top three travel Web sites -- Expedia, and -- all offer fare alerts or fare trackers. Once you enter your departure and arrival destination you will then automatically receive email alerts when deals are offered for your trip.

Options differ from site to site, but most give the choice to set a price that you want to be alerted about when your trip fare drops below it. You can also designate how long you want to be alerted about fares and what airlines you want to fly.

The travel Web sites will check for fares according to your parameters 24 hours a day and save you time and energy. These fares are automatically found by the travel sites, so you will need to be flexible with your travels dates. Also, to take advantage of these tools you must first create an account with your desired site.

"People will take last-minute vacations if they see a deal," says Amy Ziff, editor at large with

4. You don't always get what you pay for

Before committing to that unbelievable deal, know what you are paying for. There are two ways that additional costs are added to your ticket.

The first are federal fees. Consumers are usually blind to where they come from and what they mean. According to Ray Neidl, an airline and aerospace analyst for Calyon Securities, on average 26 percent of the final fare you pay goes to the government. "This is the real hidden cost that is going to the consumer," said Neidl.

The other costs are not hidden, but can be avoided. Weigh your bags before arriving at the airport. Almost all airlines this year lowered their bag weight restriction from 70 pounds down to 50 pounds. Luggage one pound overweight on American Airlines will cost you an extra $25. Whatever you do, don't check a third bag -- that will cost you $80...each way!

Bring your own food, United Airlines charges passengers an additional $5 once they are on the plane for an in-flight meal.

Also, always book your flight on the airline's Web site. Carriers will charge a fee to book over the phone, and the travel sites, like Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz, charge fees as well.

Tom Parsons says the real thing to be aware of is what your carrier charges to change a flight. Currently Southwest and American offer flights from Dallas to St. Louis for $49. On Southwest you can change your travel dates for free. On American it will cost you $100. "How can they charge $100 to change a flight that costs $49!?!" says Parsons.

5. Fly in class

Just because it's a last-minute trip doesn't mean you can't get one of those coveted upgrades.

Having the right credit card will help you accumulate miles faster than flying. Mathew Bennett, known as Mr. Upgrade, is the editor of He says that earning miles with a card is the best way of boosting your chances for an upgrade.

To find the best card for you, log on to and Both offer lists of credit card deals. Be careful, don't let the lust of miles get you stuck with a bad card with high interest rates.

Using your miles for an upgrade is the most reliable option, but be strategic when searching for the upgrade. Ed Hewitt, columnist for Independent says that timing is critical. Calling ahead and requesting the upgrade over the phone can make a big difference. If you wait until you are at the gate, you're competing against other passengers who also waited until the last minute.

However, it doesn't hurt to ask. Travel & Leisure magazine recommends arriving at the airport before the rush and taking a flight earlier in the day. If your plan is to schmooze the airline agent, be polite. Some examples include, "Is there an upgrade available for an affordable price?" or "Do I qualify for an upgrade?"


For all the latest top 5 Tips columns, click here.

Gerri Willis is a personal finance editor for CNN Business News and the host for Open House. E-mail comments to  Top of page

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