How to Plan and Save on Holiday Travel

Some of my fondest college memories aren’t from going to homecoming games, attending my first college party or walking around campus when no one else was going to class. Some of my favorite memories are going home for winter break and seeing all my high school friends. Seeing old friends was always so fun, especially since we had all matured during the previous semester.  

But getting home was another story. I went to college in Bloomington, Ind., a small college town where the university was the main attraction. That meant getting a flight back to my hometown of Memphis, Tenn. was always a struggle. I hated having to coordinate buses and flights while in the middle of finals. 

Here’s what I learned about booking flights home, so you don’t have to struggle like I did.  

Plan Ahead 

The first step to saving on holiday travel is planning ahead. If you wait until the last minute to buy plane tickets, you’ll probably pay more. You may even be completely out of luck and not find any flights that work for you. 

You can sign up for travel alerts through, which aggregates flights from most major airlines. You can also look at Google flight alerts or sign up for emails for your favorite airline.  

Learn about what airlines fly out of your hometown’s airport and what alternative routes there are. For example, if you’re struggling to find cheap flights coming out of Louisville, look at Cincinnati’s airport. You might have to get creative and look at airports you never consider. 

According to the travel website Skyscanner, the best month to buy plane tickets for Christmas is in October. Yes, it might seem crazy to book tickets for winter break when the leaves are barely falling off the trees, but you could save lots of money. 

Carpool with Other Students 

If you’re at a big university, you might find someone who’s also traveling to your destination for the holidays. If you carpool with them, you’ll save money on transportation while also dividing the driving time. 

I did this a lot in college because I didn’t have a car, but I only needed to travel a couple hours for Thanksgiving break. It was easy finding someone who was also going that way.  

If you’re not traveling to a popular city, you should put out feelers ASAP. Make a shareable post on Facebook, put a physical notice in your dorm’s common area or ask your college advisor if there are any official student carshare groups. 

Look at Buses 

Even though the US isn’t known for its public transportation system, buses can be a decent way to save money on travel if you’re going somewhere close. For example, you can find MegaBus tickets as little as $5 if you book way in advance. Some of these buses include WiFi and let you pick your seat beforehand. 

Buses almost always take longer than driving, but are a good option if you’re on a budget and have time to kill. If you’re lucky, you can find a fellow student who’s also traveling by bus and book your tickets together.  

Compare Alternative Dates 

If you’re flying home for winter break, you probably have some leeway on when you arrive and when you need to leave. Being flexible on travel dates can save you a lot of money, especially during the holidays. 

When you look at flights, you can often look at dates with one to three days of flexibility. Flights that leave or arrive on Tuesdays and Wednesdays are often less expensive than weekends. You should also use an incognito browser when you book tickets. 

If you find an especially good deal that coincides with class, ask your professor if you can get an excused absence. Some may be ok with you taking a final early or if you miss the first day of classes for the new semester. 

Again, ask your professors about this ahead of time. They may be more lenient if you’re asking in early November instead of the week before finals. 

Use Credit Card Points 

If you or your parents have a travel rewards credit card, see if they have enough points to book a flight. This works best if you book early, because flights often increase in price as the dates get closer. 

Travel rewards programs all work differently so it’s good to compare offers before you book a flight. Your parents can book your flights using their account, or they can transfer points to your personal account. This doesn’t work for every credit card, so call and ask if there’s a way to do it for free. It may be easier to do if you’re an authorized user on the account. 

Read the Fine Print 

Nowadays airlines are trying to cut corners everywhere, by trimming seats and charging more for basic amenities. When you buy your flight, read through the ticket agreement to understand what’s included and what’s extra. In some cases, a carry-on bag costs extra just like a checked bag. But a checked bag may be cheaper than a carry-on. 

If snacks aren’t provided, bring your own beforehand. Also, try not to pack your bags completely full. If you’re like me, you’ll have Christmas presents and new clothes to take back with you. And who wants to pay a $30 carry-on fee?  

Understand What Your University Provides 

If you’re lucky, your college may have some free transportation options. For example, my university was in Bloomington, Ind., an hour away from Indianapolis. There was a free shuttle to the Indianapolis airport that left every two hours. 

There’s also a student-only bus that goes from Indy to Chicago and Chicago-area suburbs. This is only available during the holidays and is very affordable.  

The key to saving on holiday travel is to plan ahead, ask other people and do lots of research. You may discover someone in your dorm who’s driving through your city on their home or someone who also takes the bus home.  


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How to book a trip to Thailand with your Amex Platinum Card

Thinking about booking a trip to Thailand as the world opens back up?

There are many different ways to use your credit card rewards and miles to get yourself a free trip to the “Land of Smiles” and also lots of airlines you can use to route yourself to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK).

If you’ve been racking up Membership Rewards points using The Platinum Card® from American Express over the past year – or any other Amex rewards-earning card – now is the time to turn your points into post-pandemic travel.

Since there are a few ways to put these points to work for planning an epic trip, let’s first look at the two methods for planning international travel. Then I’ll share my top option for redeeming my American Express earnings to land myself in the birthplace of pad thai. (Spoiler alert: It’s transferring points for round-trip business class travel on All Nippon Airways [ANA] via Japan.)

See related: How I use my Amex Platinum card

Read more from our credit card experts.

Ask Stephanie a question.

Two ways to redeem Amex points for international travel

There are two distinct ways to use your Membership Rewards points to book an international ticket to Thailand. You can either book directly through the American Express Travel portal, or you can transfer your points to any of the 19 Membership Rewards airline partners and book directly with them.

Which way is better? Both options are fantastic, but you’ll need to factor in where you are going, which airlines will take you there and how much the ticket costs to determine which booking method will give you a better return on the value of your points.

Booking with Amex Travel

When I log in to my American Express account and search the travel page, it’s easy to see that tickets from Los Angeles (LAX) to Thailand (BKK) in late summer 2021 are around $750 round trip in economy class, or 75,000 Membership Rewards points. Not too bad since I got 100,000 points from my Platinum card’s welcome bonus, and the flights are on ANA – a nice Japanese airline.

However, since a trans-Pacific flight to Bangkok is a long plane ride, I prefer to travel premium class whenever possible. If I use Amex Travel to look up the cost of that same round-trip ANA flight from LAX to BKK in business class, it’s $6,377. Paying with Membership Rewards, the equivalent price is 637,655 points. Unfortunately, that’s more points or money than I normally have at any given time to spend on a flight.

See related: Cash back vs. points: Which is better?

Booking through a Membership Rewards travel partner

You can also transfer your Membership Rewards points to one of the program’s travel partners, then use those points to book your trip through that airline’s mileage program.

For the same trip to Thailand from LAX, you could transfer points from Membership Rewards to the ANA mileage program. Once the points arrive in your ANA account (which might take a few days), you can use them to book your tickets. Amex Travel bases the points cost of your flight on the actual ticket price, but ANA charges set rates according to the class of service, fare type, and whether you’re traveling during high, medium or low season.

For example, the same ANA business class fare I would have paid over 600,000 miles for on the travel portal would only cost 100,000 miles during the low season purchased directly through ANA. Guess which ticket I’ll be choosing to fly to Thailand.

See related: Avoid these common travel credit card mistakes

Which option should you choose?

To know which method is best for booking any specific itinerary, you’ll have to check and compare all of your options every time.

The benefit of booking through a mileage program is that sometimes, as in my example, you can squeeze more value out of your points – especially if you purchase more expensive premium tickets. But you’ll have to do the research to know which airline partner programs to check.

On the other hand, if you book through Amex Travel, you may get a better deal on points cost if the fare is already low. And since this type of rewards ticket is considered a “paid” ticket from the airline’s perspective, you’ll still earn miles from the flight in the airline’s loyalty program when you take your trip.

Bottom line

Membership Rewards points earned from the American Express Platinum card are valuable for booking big trips like a post-pandemic visit to Thailand. Because these points provide flexibility when booking tickets, you have many options to get the most redemption value.


4 Inexpensive East Coast Destinations to Travel to With Your Family

It’s amazing how things change when you have kids. Before kids, weekend getaways and trips were fairly easy. When we needed to take a break, I remember we could look at the calendar and twenty minutes later, have a few dates to run by work for time off.  Even the destinations would already be top of mind and after looking for deals on travel sites and asking around, we’d settle with whatever had the best price. Pretty easy.

Fast forward a few years and now we’re parents of an eight-year-old and a four-year-old.  

Those first few years with our little ones were honestly rough. We’re trying to coordinate between two jobs and one school schedule. It was tough finding the perfect time to take a week or so off. Once we had our dates, we’d then have to make sure that we could find a deal. Thankfully, we’ve gotten a little bit wiser. We found our footing and came up with our little system for timing our vacations and snagging some good savings. We’ve also found some spots that allow us to unwind without breaking the budget.  

Affordable Family Vacations to Take This Fall 

While school is back in season, that doesn’t mean you have to write off the rest of the year.  You still have time to take one last getaway to recharge your battery, have some fun, and connect as a family.  

To make things easy for you, I want to share a few of our favorite spots that both we and the kids enjoyed. The cherry on top? They’re also affordable spots!  

Daytona Beach, Florida 

If you’re looking to escape and have some beach time, then Florida is the way to go. However, staying in Orlando is not on the list if you’re looking for a chance to relax and actually save money. Instead, soak up some beach time before the weather gets too cold and hang out for a bit in Daytona Beach.  

When we did our trip last October in Florida, it couldn’t have been more perfect. The weather was still warm, the large crowds of tourists were gone (along with the overpriced hotels), and there were plenty of things to do around.  

Racing fans can enjoy the Daytona International Speedway or if you’re in the mood for stars, you can head over to MOA’s planetarium.  And if your kids really want to visit the Magic Kingdom or Universal Studios, you can make it a more affordable day trip rather than blow your budget by spending your whole time there.  We once went to Universal right after Thanksgiving and were able to skip waiting in line because it was so quiet.  

Charleston, South Carolina 

We took trips to Charleston for the last few Decembers and I have to say, we’ve enjoyed every one. While the temperatures have cooled down a bit, making beach time minimal, we still managed to be out and about. Throw on a jacket, wear your fall layers, and you’re all set to hit the town and enjoy some history and food.  

You have to visit The Tavern at Rainbow Row. Besides being the oldest liquor store in the country, the vibe there is incredible. It’s small, but the selection is wide. Want to have an incredible lunch that’s still cheap? Try out The Blind Tiger. The truffle duck, bourbon bread pudding, buffalo cheese curds are delicious.  

Asheville, North Carolina 

One of our favorite low-key trips we’ve taken was a camping adventure with some friends just outside of Asheville. Being able to see the mountains shift into autumn colors was incredible. If you’re a photographer or love being outdoors, you have to take a trip here. It’s so peaceful and the views are amazing. For the parents, Asheville is the hot spot for fantastic food and a wide array of awesome breweries.   

After spending your days enjoying the parks and maybe getting some tubing in, treat yourself and the kids to Double D’s Coffee and Dessert. It’s a cool double-decker bus in the city that’s also nearby Wicked Weed brewery.  

Tuxedo, New York 

If you absolutely love New York City but also relish some peace and relaxation that a more rural spot gives, then you should check out some of the small towns upstate.   

I may be a little biased since I lived here for a few years, but fall is pretty much the best time to visit. You can truly have the best of both worlds with renting a spot in a town just outside the city.  The Metro-North Railroad means you can take a train to New York City, allowing you to enjoy a scenic ride and skip put on the nightmare of driving in Manhattan.  

Have your day trips to shop, visit the museums, and explore some of the best restaurants. You can then head back to your affordable getaway spot and enjoy some of the local events including celebrating autumn with exquisite apple cider.  

Saving Up for Family Trips 

While you hunt for the deals, you can start now saving up for your trip. You can create a vacation fund as separate savings to keep you motivated.  

Using a tool like Mint makes it easy to track your progress and help you find ways to trim your budget a smidge so you have more money for fun during your trip. Knowing our money leaks allowed us to try some fun monthly challenges to sock away an extra couple hundred dollars.  Keep your vacations debt-free also means there’s less stress as you don’t have to worry about a bill afterward. Double win in my book!  

If you’re looking for tips, please check out my post on how to shift gears and become a savvy saver.  It’s much easier than you think and you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish in one month.  

Your Take on Family Getaways 

Wherever you go, I hope you have a wonderful time together. Now that you know my favorites, I’d love to hear about your spots.  What have been some of your best vacations together?  




The post 4 Inexpensive East Coast Destinations to Travel to With Your Family appeared first on MintLife Blog.


The hidden costs of free hotel award nights

There are lots of great co-branded hotel credit cards available these days to help you earn points to redeem for free hotel nights.

But when you use your credit card rewards points to pay for a hotel room, can you expect the full cost of your room to be covered?

Even though free nights should be free in theory, sometimes you might be surprised to find yourself with an unexpected bill at checkout. Beware of these potential hidden costs of free hotel nights.

Resort fees

The largest and most common hidden costs of free hotel reward nights are the resort fees that many properties are now tacking onto your bill to cover the amenities they offer (whether you use them or not).

Both the Hyatt and Hilton hotel property groups waive the resort fee on a stay when you book with your points, but if you’re staying a free night at a Marriott or IHG property, you’ll still be charged a resort fee for each day you stay.

Read more from our credit card experts.

Ask Stephanie a question.

Not-so-free breakfast

I love when free hotel nights come with the benefit of free breakfast in the morning, but almost all hotels have some limits on what you can order. Alcohol is almost never included (except for one time I had free-flowing champagne breakfast at a Hilton in the Seychelles), and it is common that you’ll be charged at checkout for certain menu items like juices or espresso drinks.

Likewise, some hotels impose dollar limits on how much you can order for free. Usually, this limit is enough to get you a full breakfast, including one entree and a morning coffee, but not always. I just stayed at a Sheraton that gave each guest a $16 certificate for “free breakfast” despite the fact that most of the items on the menu were $17 or more – not including coffee or tip.

If you don’t want to get hit with this hidden cost, be sure you know at the outset what the breakfast benefit is and what exactly it includes.

See related: Setting expectations for a post-pandemic return to travel

Different rules and taxes on cash and points awards

Most hotel property groups give you the option to make a booking fully with points or use some points and pay the rest of the rate with cash. When you choose a cash and points rate, the rules for what you get for “free” often change.

The waiving of resort fees at the Hyatt, for example, does not apply on a cash and points stay the way it applies on a full award stay. Likewise, if you cover part of your stay with cash, you can also expect to be hit with taxes on your final bill.

Parking charges

If you’re going to need to park a car on your free night, you’ll want to know how the specific hotel you’re staying at manages its self-parking and valet services. For lower category hotels, self-parking in the hotel lot is often included. You shouldn’t be surprised to get charged $30-$50 per day for parking for some higher category and pricier hotels.

You might also find that parking is covered as an amenity in your resort fee in some resort destinations. You can win with a two-for-one here by selecting to use your points at a property that includes parking in the resort fee and doesn’t charge you the fee if you’re paying for the stay with points.

This past week I stayed at the Grand Hyatt in Kauai, where my resort fee was covered as part of my award stay with parking as one of the benefits – win-win and no surprise charges.

Late checkout

Want to stay for late checkout beyond the time allotted to you based on your elite status? Some hotels, particularly those in resort destinations, may add extra costs to your bill for the benefit of keeping your room a few extra hours.

The Hilton Hawaiian Village, for example, only grants late checkout to Hilton Gold and Diamond members until 1 p.m., then adds a $175 charge if you want to keep your room past that time.

See related: Hotel loyalty programs extending perks for members through coronavirus

Free nights that aren’t coded as free

If you’re using reward points from a flexible card program to book a points stay through a bank’s travel rewards portal, you often won’t be eligible for the same benefits that you would earn if you were booking directly through the hotel property group. Waived resort fees on free stays often fall into that category.

When you book a hotel with a resort fee via the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, the resort fee is added to the hotel booking price before you pay.

Bottom line

Free hotel nights are one of the greatest rewards you can earn from your hotel and flexible credit card points, but make sure you do your homework first and book wisely, so free is what you actually get.


How to Navigate the Airport Rush During the Holidays

From the Mint team: Mint may be compensated if you click on the links to our issuer partners’ offers that appear in this article, including Chase. Our partners do not endorse, review or approve the content. Any links to Mint Partners were added after the creation of the posting.  Mint Partners had no influence on the creation, direction or focus of this article unless otherwise specifically stated.

The holiday season is the biggest travel season of the year, and traveling during the holiday season, especially with kids, can be super stressful. AAA forecasted that 112.5 million people traveled in the holiday season in 2018, and sometimes it feels every single one of them is in the airport with you at once! Here are 5 ways to keep your sanity if you have to navigate the airport while traveling this holiday season.

A little bit of planning goes a long wayEspecially if you are flying with young kids, make sure that you are planning your travel smartly. Yes, that red-eye flight or 6 hour layover looks like it won’t be a problem back several months ago when you booked the flight, but now that it’s impending, you might be starting to second-guess yourself. If you do find yourself in an unenviable situation, don’t just ignore it. Make a plan for it (and if you’re traveling with young kids, you might as well make 2 or 3 backup plans too!)

Keep track of your flights

One of the things that I highly recommend is to keep track of your flight reservations. Every couple of weeks, log on to the airline’s account and make sure that your flights still have the same time and you still have the same seats that you picked (if your ticket allows you to pick seats). Airlines are changing their flight schedules all the time, and the more time you have to make changes, the better. The worst thing that can happen is that you don’t find out about a flight change or an aircraft swap until the day before, when there isn’t much you can do.

Another thing I usually do, starting the day before my flight when I check-in, is to look at where my flights are, and where those planes are coming from. I use to do that kind of research – you can put in your airline and flight number and it will show you not only the status of YOUR flight, but also where your plane is now.

By looking at where my plane is now, I usually know about flight delays BEFORE the airline itself acknowledges it. More information can help you plan your day and get a leg up on making alternate arrangements should you need it

Consider an airport lounge

If you do have an extended layover in an airport, you might want to consider checking if your airline has an airport lounge and how much it costs for entrance. Many credit cards come with access to the Priority Pass network of lounges, which allow you complimentary airport lounge access.

If you don’t have a credit card that gives lounge access, you can investigate how much it costs for a day pass. Most lounges cost $30-$50 for a day pass, though many admit children under 12 for free. Generally I wouldn’t recommend paying that much for a day pass, but it depends on your situation. Look at what you might pay for food and drinks at an airport restaurant and you may find that a day pass to an airport lounge isn’t that much more.

In addition to a quieter place than the terminal and complimentary food and drinks, many airport lounges have a separate children’s area which can be a lifesaver on a long layover.

Sign up for TSA Pre®  

Another travel benefit that comes with some credit cards is a $100 credit towards Global Entry membership. If you have Global Entry membership, you also generally will receive TSA Pre on your domestic flights. Depending on where and when you’re traveling, this could be a huge lifesaver to keep you from spending a ton of time waiting in an endless airport security line.

Many of the credit cards that give Global Entry / TSA Pre are premium cards with annual fees north of $450. But here are a few cards with smaller annual fees, including some that waive the annual fee the first year.


  • IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card – $89 annual fee
  • United Explorer℠ Card – $95 annual fee; waived the first year
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card – $199 annual fee


Be smart about checked bags vs carry-ons

Our final tip to keep your sanity in airports while traveling this holiday season is to take a step back and consider whether checking bags is better for your situation than just taking carry-ons. There are pros and cons to both situations and you need to decide what works best for you. Our family of 8 has done it both ways. When our kids were younger, with all the baby gear we toted around, we tended to check bags. Southwest Airlines and their 2 free checked bags on every flight were huge – I remember a Southwest flight to Reno where between checked bags, carry-ons, strollers and car seats, we lugged 17 pieces of luggage through the airport! We’ve now gone more towards not checking bags and just taking carry-on luggage. Not only does that save on bag fees, we also don’t have to wait at baggage claim or worry about the airline losing our luggage. But my kids are now all old enough where they can take care of their own carry-on luggage. If you have younger kids who can’t manage their own rollerboards in the airport, then you might consider checking your bags, even if you have to pay extra for it. You don’t want to have to be lugging around multiple suitcases through the airport on top of making sure your kids stay happy and safe.


I hope these tips have given you some ideas to de-stress your holiday airport travel. Got another tip? Leave it in the comments!

The post How to Navigate the Airport Rush During the Holidays appeared first on MintLife Blog.


Here’s What You Need For Your Next Affordable Adventure

As spring turns into summer, many people are looking to hit the road for the traditional summer vacation. The COVID-19 pandemic has also contributed to increased travel this summer. As restrictions have eased and locations have opened up, “revenge travel” is opening up as people look to go on all the trips they’ve missed over the past year or so. With many budgets still tight, here are a few things to consider as you hit the road for your next vacation.

Choosing affordable adventure

The first thing to keep in mind is why it might make sense to choose an affordable adventure. For many people, money is still tight as we recover from any economic impacts from COVID-19. And after all, who likes spending more money than they have to! So if you are in a situation where you’re looking for an affordable adventure, here are some great ways to save money on your next trip.

In most cases, your travel and lodging costs are the highest components of any trip or vacation. There are a variety of different ways that you can save in these two categories. One way is to consider using credit card rewards to help offset your hotel and airline costs. Just signing up for one or two credit cards can potentially give you enough points to offset a good chunk of your airfare and/or hotel costs.

Pro-tip: Use our free travel budget calculator to help plan your next trip!

Look at day trips and staycations

Another way to reduce the amount of money that you spend on travel and lodging is to look at day trips and staycations. With a staycation, you typically explore your hometown as a tourist and sleep in your own bed each night. A day trip can work the same way, where you travel by car to a nearby destination, spend the day and then return home at night. You will spend some money on gas but nowhere near the cost of a hotel room.

Another idea for an affordable adventure is to take more of an extended day trip. By combining a couple of day trip ideas into a longer road trip, you still save money on your transportation. Especially if you have a larger household, being able to road trip all in one car saves a lot of money compared to having to buy everyone their own ticket. Road trips are a popular vacation idea this summer, and will likely put you in contact with fewer people than traveling by airplane if that’s something that’s important to you.

Consider a National Parks pass

Besides your travel and lodging, another big factor towards the total cost of your vacation are your entertainment costs. If you have Yellowstone, Yosemite, or any of the over 2,000 National Parks and Federal Lands on your bucket list, consider buying an America the Beautiful pass. Available for $80, this pass is good for a year and allows the pass owner plus three adults (or the entire car where the entrance is charged per car) entry into more than 2,000 federal recreation sites.

You’ll also want to research what the conditions are before you get to your park, rather than just showing up and hoping for the best. Different National Parks have reopened in different ways, with some parks still completely closed, while others only have certain areas or programs open. Due to the increase in popularity of outdoor destinations this summer, many National Parks are extremely busy, especially those that are still limiting the total number of visitors per day. It’s a smart idea to research your destinations ahead of time so that you can know what to expect.

Affordable travel gear

The MOST inexpensive way that you can travel is to use things that you already have, rather than spending money on gear that you won’t use or won’t use often. Still, you want to make sure that you are putting yourself in a position to have a great trip. If you’re planning on hiking or being outdoors, you’ll want to make sure that you have comfortable shoes and a great backpack. If you’re traveling by airplane, look into a neck pillow or a similar gadget to make your flight more enjoyable. And investing in a quality suitcase will likely pay off over time.

The Bottom Line

The cost of travel and lodging are two of the biggest factors in determining how affordable your next trip will be. Just like any other expense, creating a budget or a sinking fund can help you have fun without going into debt. Make a plan and you’ll be well on your way to having an amazing time and making outstanding memories.

The post Here’s What You Need For Your Next Affordable Adventure appeared first on MintLife Blog.