Holiday Travel, By The Numbers

Holiday travel is almost upon us and that has a greater than ever number of people in the air, at sea and on the road for Christmas. Call it what you will; an improving economy, declining unemployment, pent-up travel lust or just that time of the year; travelers nationwide have plans for the holidays.

“The year-end holiday season is the busiest travel time of the year,” said Jessica Brady, AAA spokesperson in a TBNWeekly report. “Whether families plan a traditional holiday at grandma’s house or a cruise to the Caribbean, one thing is certain, being with family and friends remains the most important factor during the holiday season.”

How does it all break down? Let’s take a look, by the numbers:

15 million people in the United States will head to airports this holiday season, slightly fewer than last year.

35 airports now have the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) PreCheck trusted traveler program that allows members who have been deemed low risk to keep on their shoes, jackets and belts.12 and 75– Children 12 and under and passengers 75 and older get expedited screening at any TSA checkpoint.

93.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the year-end holidays, an increase of 1.6 percent from 2011, says AAA.

$3.25 per gallon was the current average price as of Monday December 17, according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report, who predicts less than $3 becoming commonplace in the near future.

7.7 million Texans will leave home for the holidays. 7.1 million by motor vehicle, the rest by air, train, bus and cruise ship.

11.7 million California residents, the most ever, will travel 50 miles or more during the end-of-year holiday season.

32 cruise ships from major cruise lines Carnival, Princess, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines will be sailing seven-day itineraries that will be at sea on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Thirteen of them are sold out.

Read more here:

However we count it, holiday travel is expected to be at its highest level in six years, as we see in this video:

[Photo credit- Flickr user q… focusing on other media]

Airline Travel Made Less Painful By Using A Travel Agent

Airline travel would seem pretty straightforward at first glance. We know we need a ticket from point A to point B, when we can fly, what airlines we prefer, what we would like that ticket to cost and when we are prepared to pay for it. The challenge comes from matching what we want to what is available. As airlines continue to cut available seating worldwide, choices are more limited than ever, making that perfect match more difficult. Adding in seemingly secret factors that consumers rarely come in contact have savvy buyers considering using the services of a travel agent again.

When it comes to finding anything even close to resembling a budget airline ticket for travel to holiday events, knowing when to buy, when to fly and what discounts and special offers are available is key.

“Many airlines compete with each other to have the lowest prices for their flights. Knowing when those ticket prices are the cheapest is a great way to save money,” says Mathias Friess, CEO of in a Wall Street Journal report, “10 Tips for Saving on Holiday Travel Right Now.”

Common tips for booking airline tickets for holiday travel usually start with not waiting too long to buy. Know that prices commonly rise as holidays approach, so book as far in advance as possible. Looking for website codes and discounts is a good idea and not relying on just one website is better.

That is if we go it on our own to buy air.

A growing number of travelers are using a travel agent for airline tickets. Not just any travel agent, but one that specializes in airfare. Expect to pay a fee of $20 to $50 per ticket on top of the ticket price, a charge that can be easily worth every penny if a problem comes up en-route.

But before you begin to develop what will hopefully be a lifelong business relationship with a travel agent or agency, ask one very important question:

“If there is a problem with my flight before travel begins or when travel is in progress, will you make alternate arrangements for me?

The answer needs to be “yes.”

Rather than stand in line at the customer service counter of any given airline along with 200 other people off the flight that was just canceled, your travel agent may be the go-to person to take care of that while you relax in a lounge area.

Next flight out not until the next day? That same travel agent can arrange a hotel room for you as well as information on getting there and back to the airport, even where to have dinner.

Some other situations that beg us to use a qualified travel agent include international travel (especially for the first time), flying on an unfamiliar airline and traveling with special needs flyers like the handicapped, children or the elderly. Simply a busy personal schedule that does not allow hours surfing around for fares is also a common reason to use a travel agent.

Surely, using a travel agent is not for everyone. Travelers flying common routes to major destinations, those with flexible travel plans or passengers flying direct without connections will naturally fare better than others. Still, having a travel agent in your back pocket when things go wrong can be well worth the time it takes to find one.

[Photo credit: Flickr user kalleboo]

Magic Equation: How Much Vacation Can You Afford?

Everyone dreams of the absolutely perfect vacation. A whole year away. Sampling amazing cuisines every night. Five-star hotels everywhere. Screw the cross-country bus, you’ll take the bullet train!

All of that can be yours, at a cost, of course.

Planning a vacation is all about balancing variables. Think of it as a triangle between cost, time and luxury – you can have two, but never all three.


  • If you want a yearlong trip in the lap of luxury, that’s fine … you’ll just have to sacrifice your budget.
  • If you want a luxurious trip without spending a ton, that’s fine, too. You’ll just have to sacrifice duration, like staying just one night at a fancy resort.
  • Want to go away for a long time without blowing all your cash? Great, it looks like you’ll be backpacking and staying in hostels for a while to come.

This is particularly important in the planning stages of your trip, when you’re deciding where to go and for how long. After all, if you planned for two weeks in an expensive country and realize halfway through that you’re going to go over budget, it’s a little too late, isn’t it?

The key to staying on budget is to figure out how you’ll allocate your resources by working the ratio of those three factors: cost, duration and how much you’ll spend on the ground. Think about what matters most to you and then hold yourself to it as best you can.

Based on personal experience as both a traveler and a personal finance writer – and a significant amount of number crunching to make sure my calculations make sense – I’ve come up with an equation to figure out just how much trip I, or you, can afford.The beauty is that the variables are just that: by understanding your travel situation as a give and take, you can tweak one variable to make more room for the others. Do this math:

Total Budget – (Airfare + Souvenir Budget) – (Estimated Cost Per Train Or Bus Ride x Total Rides) – [(Daily Food Estimate + Nightly Hotel Estimate + Daily Entertainment Estimate) x Total Days]

Then take a look at the number you get. Here’s how to decode:

Zero = You are precisely on budget, without a lot of wiggle room.

A positive number = That’s how much extra wiggle room you have in your budget. Toward the end of the trip, you might as well spend it on something fun! If you have a huge positive number, you have a lot leftover. You might even want to rethink some of your plans or calculations. In one direction, you can bring this closer to zero by adjusting your expected budget and simply spending less on this particular vacation. Maybe let the leftovers seed your fund for the next vacation! Otherwise, you might choose to go away for more days or up the quality of your accommodations (therefore increasing your nightly hotel estimate). Once you change a variable, remember to compute again to make sure you’re on track!

A negative number = You’re over budget, and you haven’t even arrived at your destination yet. Something in this equation needs to change. If you’re just a little in the red then you might be able to get away with tweaking a small component of this equation, to avoid altering your travel plans. For example, you might just give yourself less cash to spend on souvenirs, or eat a little more frugally while you’re away.

If you’re severely over budget, however, something’s gotta give. In some cases, it helps to go back to square one and rethink your location. Will you have to pay for expensive plane tickets? Even if the cost of living is cheap where you’re going, that only matters if you stay for a long time. So, for a short trip, maybe you can go somewhere closer to home to reduce the cost of getting there. For a longer trip, maybe you need to go somewhere cheaper, or reassess your travel style. And, of course, one of the fastest ways to knock this number down is to reduce your total days away, since, as you can see, that gets multiplied out.

If you are having trouble knocking down any of your estimated costs, it goes without saying that you can also balance this equation simply by increasing your total budget.

It’s never fun to hack away at your dream trip, but whatever you decide, remember the give and take between money, luxury and time. By choosing which of those three is most important, you’ll be able to craft a trip that’s just what you’re looking for, in the end.

[Image credit: Flickr user]

Looking For Holiday Airfare? Better Hurry

When to buy holiday airfare is often the most difficult part of the process. Deciding where to go, when we want to fly there and who we might travel with is easy. Knowing when to pull the trigger on buying airfare seems to require a crystal ball. Since most of us don’t have mystic forecasting abilities, we look to what or who we believe are qualified sources for guidance. Experts seem to agree, the best time to buy is sooner than later.

“You don’t have a moment to lose,” said Rick Searcy, CEO of FareCompare in an ABC News report, cautioning travelers, “Holiday flights are going to be expensive.” Searcy believes that prices will be up to 70 percent higher than normal pricing, depending on routes, and those looking for direct flights can expect up to a 20 percent premium price.

So when to buy?

Those who have not bought flights for Thanksgiving travel are already too late for the best pricing. Looking at Christmas travel, Searcy suggests buying before November 10 for the best pricing and consider traveling during off peak times.Other ways to save on airfare?

Try a travel agent- Expect to pay a fee of $20 to $50 per person on top of the airfare but that fee can quickly become a great investment if a travel agent finds great flights at a lower price in less time than we might invest on our own surfing websites.

To get the best results with a travel agent, have very specific but flexible travel plans. Establish what agents call a “travel window,” basically a period of time within which you are able to fly. Note the time you need on the ground for holiday plans and throw in any hotel, car rental or other needs at the destination.

Also, send along past guest/frequent flyer numbers and available points to that agent to have on file and take advantage of if possible.

Pay attention to airline promotions- I got one today via email from American Airlines doubling miles every time I fly on American Airlines, American Eagle or the American Connection carrier from November 16, 2012, through November 26, 2012. Those miles might mean a lot to me and swing my vote toward American if two options come up roughly equal.

Regardless of what airline we fly, what airport we use or when we go, it’s clear that this year prices will be up and availability down as airlines trim fleets to fly full planes.

[Photo Credit- Flickr user matt.hintsa]

FAA stops collecting airfare taxes — and the airlines cash in

Recent budget woes in the legislative branch of our US government have been creating a cascade of disruptions, and the most recent hiccup involves the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Without proper agreement on a fiscal plan moving forward, the government has been forced to shut down a portion of the agency, most notably the section that collects taxes on our domestic airplane tickets.

Those taxes account for a modest percentage of each flight, roughly between 5 and 10%, and when travelers caught wind that the taxes would be discounted, they saw the silver lining of the shutdown as being a temporary sale on domestic tickets.

As planned, the FAA shutdown took place at midnight this morning, but the savings have barely matured. What happened?

Turns out, some of the airlines also realized the gap in price difference and decided to make that up by increasing their fares. So rather than passing the tax savings along to customers, they’re greedily taking the margin for themselves.

Not all airlines have reached into our wallets, however, apparently Virgin America has not only refused to increase fares but they’ve turned the event into a bit of public promotion. Last night the airline had a countdown to tax-free bookings on their sites and as promised, the fares have stayed low. Similarly, United appears to be keeping its fares in place.

On the flip side of the coin? US Airways, American and JetBlue seem to be the leaders in ripping off their consumers. AP has a bit more info if you want to become even more disappointed.

[Flickr image via Fly for Fun]