The holidays are a time when being together with friends and family is paramount. But what if your family is spread out across the country?
Book travel plans as far in advance as you can, says Mark Novak, vice president and general manager of HotelCoupons.com. “If you’re looking to bring family in town for the winter holidays, it’s best to start booking in the summer. A lot of companies offer their lowest fares in the ‘off-season,’ so the earlier you look, the better.”
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Don’t let tight budgets and frenzied schedules keep you from spending the holidays with loved ones. Find out how you can give the gift of travel—and foster lifelong memories—easily and affordably.
Give travel gift cards
Many airlines, such as Southwest and American, and hotels, such as Marriott, sell gift cards for as little as $25. That gives the recipients some flexibility about how and when they want to travel. You also can gift cruise and train travel.
Donate some points
“If the budget is a bit tight but you have tons of credit card points or brand loyalty points racked up, consider donating some as a gift,” Novak suggests. You can give the gift of miles/points to anyone with a loyalty account simply by transferring your miles/points directly into the recipient’s account. Each airline and hotel charges different fees, so check with your (and the recipient’s) preferred partner.
Buy a city pass
Let your friends and family feel like a tourist, whether you’re going to them or they’re coming to you, with a CityPass booklet. It provides discounts up to 50% on admissions and attractions around town in 11 North American cities.
Find common ground
If you want to get the whole family together somewhere other than your house, consider renting an affordable condo or a vacation home in a family-friendly location, suggests Dan Rowe, president and CEO of the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Mike Pauer, VP of marketing for Patton Hospitality Management and VacationCondos.com, agrees: “Our site provides a simple online booking system where families can book quality condo accommodations offering more space, more comforts of home and more family-oriented amenities than an average hotel, plus they’re often available for less money than hotels.”
Already have a vacation home or timeshare? Consider giving a family member or friend a week there, Pauer recommends.
Money-saving tip: If you opt to rent a vacation home or condo, be sure to take advantage of the kitchen so you can cook as much as possible to save money. “It can be fun to stop at the local grocery store or fish market,” Rowe says. “Make preparing a lunch or dinner into an activity for the whole family.”
How to discuss travel expenses with relatives
If you’re concerned about how to broach the subject of gifting travel or worried about how to split expenses, make sure you discuss the matter openly. “Be upfront about how much things will cost and plan accordingly so there are no surprise expenses or bills at the end,” Novak says.
Rather than splitting one cost many ways, consider divvying up the expenses by category. One party could pay for transportation, another covers for food, another gets the room bill and so on, Novak suggests.
Similarly, “if someone is doing the driving, I would recommend the other passengers pay for the gas and any parking associated with the trip,” Rowe says.
The key is to be clear from the get-go about who’s responsible for what. “No one likes getting home from a great vacation, then having to remind friends or family to send money owed,” Pauer says.
If you want each party to pay their share, take advantage of the flexible reservation agents at sites such as VacationCondos.com. “They can help you in terms of splitting payments based on guests’ needs,” Pauer says.