Not sure what to get someone for the holidays? How about the travel gift? Memories last a lifetime, and it can be done without breaking the bank.
It’s best not to hand over a ticket and say, “Surprise! Here’s a trip. Enjoy!” Suppose they don’t like the destination or they can’t travel on the dates shown on the ticket; the gift is useless. Even if it’s just a date change, most airlines will still charge a change fee of up to $200 for domestic flights and $750 for international flights.
The smart way to gift a trip is the no-surprise method where you and the recipient collaborate on where to go and when; then you act as a travel agent putting it all together. Don’t worry, it’s not difficult.
Nail the city and travel period
After acceptance, start revising rates as soon as possible; often, the cheapest rates are given to first-time buyers. There are a variety of tools that offer destination prices by month or by season. For the cheapest fares, winter is a great time to travel. Here is an example of return airfares for December 2019:
- Boston to Cancun, $285
- Chicago to Miami$110
- Dallas to Los Angeles, $267
- Denver to Jamaica, $400
- New York to Prague, $674
Over the past few years, we’ve noticed relatively good fares to cities like Boston and Denver year-round (yes, even for winter skiers). This is mainly attributed to the presence of low cost airlines in these cities. Frontier is based in Denver while Boston is a target city for JetBlue; both are stops for the ultra discount Spirit. Other “generally inexpensive” destinations may vary from year to year. Increasingly, we are finding offers to/from Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, as well as Dublin and Scandinavian cities. Bargain finder tools will also help you find the best ones in your city.
Learn the best times to travel
Want to gift a trip to a legendary global city but don’t want to break the bank? Again, travel in the winter. The first big zone of the year arrives around January 7; Promotion zones are inexpensive because most people do not wish to travel during these times. To stimulate demand, prices are lowered. Find out what are these return plane tickets to Paris for January/February 2021:
- From Chicago, $456
- From Los Angeles, $629
- From New York, $283
Some of the best deals to Paris and elsewhere are with European discounters, such as Wow Air, Norwegian Air and Icelandair; however, it is advisable to compare prices when shopping as the major US carriers sometimes have the cheapest prices. (For related information, read the travel days that allow you to get the cheapest flights.)
Some airlines regularly offer flight-plus-hotel packages to traditional resort destinations like Hawaii and Las Vegas. Find them by checking which airlines fly to your destination; visit an airfare comparison site and write down all the airlines that fly there. Then, follow these airlines on social media or sign up for their newsletters to learn about packages and other special offers. If you see a package you like, do two things before buying:
- Check with your favorite guest review site (eg Yelp) to see if the hotel meets your standards.
- Then see if the airline breaks down the package so you know what the flight costs and what the hotel costs.
If you can figure out individual costs, do a separate airfare and hotel search to see if you can find a better deal. If this search results in a better deal, skip the airline package in favor of a do-it-yourself deal. Hotel rates are also generally cheap during periods of low travel.
Buy the gift
Many airlines sell gift cards of varying denominations; you may also be able to get e-vouchers. You can find these freebies on airline websites, but you’ll also see Southwest cards advertised by Amazon and Walmart.
Here’s an even better idea: write a note and include it inside another gift, like a brand new carry-on. The note may proclaim that you and the recipient will be taking a trip together and that plans should be arranged immediately.
When paying, use an airline-branded credit card (if you’re flying with that carrier) or any card that will give you miles or points just for making the purchase. Last but not least, have a nice trip!
To note: Rick Seaney is the CEO and co-founder of PriceCompare and columnist for Investopedia. The opinions expressed by columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Investopedia..