How to Find the Best Holiday Travel Deals

Talk about a sign of the times. For the first time in six years, fewer people are likely to travel this holiday season, according to AAA. And if many of us didn’t have to, the number would probably be much lower. So if you’re planning to hit the road (or sky) in the next few weeks for some much-needed family time, you're probably wondering how you can fit the trip into a tighter holiday budget.

That was the question Carmen posed on Wednesday to Peter Greenberg, travel editor for the TODAY show, who told her that the first step is knowing exactly when NOT to travel.

Christmas Eve and the day before Thanksgiving are the two worst days of the year to travel, he said. If you have any wiggle room in your schedule, try to book trips for either the week after Thanksgiving or the week after Christmas, which are known as “dead weeks.” You can also consider flying early on Christmas morning. The fares will be cheaper and the crowds far more manageable – and if you leave early enough you can still make it to the relatives’ house in time to open presents.

If staying at the in-laws house just isn’t in the cards, you might be in luck this year. Hotels are slashing prices left and right to stay relevant in the battered economy, so you have a better shot of negotiating a deal there, too, Greenberg said. Again, don’t go online and don’t call the 1-800 number for reservations (that will just route you to a clearing house of inventory you can’t negotiate). Call the hotel in advance, ask to speak to the “manager on duty” or “director of sales” and then turn on that charm you used with the airline to work your way into a cheaper or better room.

Greenberg’s final tip: Just because you’re going a long distance doesn’t mean you have to fly. Amtrak is doing a deal on a train pass that allows you to travel anywhere in the country with 2-3 stopovers anywhere along the route for 15 days, so you can visit more than just one set of relatives (if you dare). The cost is $500 for adults and $250 for kids and you can learn more here.