Getting Home for the Holidays

Now that this semester is almost over, many out-of-town students will be going back home for the holidays. But what's the best way to do it that won't break the bank? For one, resign yourself that—for the most part—there just aren't cheap prices during the holidays, only the least expensive ones.

1. Start Early

The sooner you get a head start on Googling train and air fares, the better. Occasionally, airlines and ground travel will offer last-minute deals, but heading home for the holidays isn't one of those times you want to wait.

When you search, remember that airlines offer their cheapest fares online at 3pm ET. But if you don't feel like being on your computer at that time—or can't—sign up for alerts. And when you click from site to site, use Google Incognito: websites use cookies to track your activity and "learn" of your plans, adjusting them (upwards) each time you start a new search.

2. Be Flexible

Tuesdays and Wednesdays are usually the cheapest days of the week to travel, but you can get some pretty good deals on a Saturday, too. If there's no pressing need for you to get home on or by a specific day, check off the "I'm flexible" box on websites. Some sites even have a section near the top of the page that show which days offer the cheapest fares, letting you save up to 50% if you travel on a different day. Surprisingly, though, traveling as close to Christmas day as possible tends to be the cheapest.

The route you take can matter, too. If you're studying in Canada but live in the United States, airfares in major cities, like Toronto (an airport with some of the highest landing fees in the world), can be horribly expensive to fly out of. Check if surrounding cities have cheaper prices, like taking the bus from Toronto to Buffalo, NY and save yourself half the money. And if you're willing to add a leg or two to your journey by including layovers or stops, you can save money there, too.

Leave Your Baggage

Consider where you live and how long you're going for: is it really worth it to pay for extra baggage just so you can wear a new sweater each day? Or if you're going on a skiing or biking vacation, would it just be cheaper to rent the gear instead of paying extra to travel with it—and have to spend the time dissembling and assembling it?