Money-saving Labor Day travel tips

Brittany Jones-Cooper
Reporter

The kids are going back to school and the weather will soon start to cool. While Labor Day signals the unofficial end of summer, there is still time to sneak in one last vacation.

A recent survey from Expedia (EXPE) found that nearly 25% of Americans plan to travel over the Sept. 4 weekend, which means the roads will be filled with traffic and airports and hotels will be packed. But never fear, there is a method to navigating the holiday madness. Here are a few tips to help you save time and money over Labor Day weekend.

The best day to travel

The website RewardExpert analyzed five years of data from the U.S. Department of Transportation to determine the best day to take a flight. According to the results, travelers flying on Aug. 30 will encounter fewer delays and cancellations. If your plans are small, flying the day before Labor Day (Sept. 3) will also offer fewer setbacks.

On the flipside, Sept. 5 and 6 will be very busy days to travel.

Gauge gas prices

Gas prices in 2017 have been relatively low compared to previous years, but they continue to fluctuate state by state. This means that drivers will have to be strategic when choosing where to fill up. On Aug. 21, AAA found that the national average for gas was $2.33 a gallon.

If you’re looking to save, South Carolina currently has the cheapest gas, averaging about $2.06 a gallon. Alabama and Mississippi have the second cheapest gas at $2.09 a gallon, followed by Oklahoma and Arkansas at $2.10 a gallon.

In the Midwest, East and South, prices were about 2 cents cheaper on Aug. 21 compared to the previous week, while West Coasters have seen gas prices jump 3 cents in the past seven days.

“Prices at the pump continue a slow, upward climb as the summer season draws to a close,” said Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson. “As we get closer to Labor Day and demand and production rates grow, drivers will likely see some of the highest prices at the pump this year.”

Download the GasBuddy app on your smartphone to find the cheapest gas along your road trip route.

Airports to avoid

Travelers move through a security checkpoint line at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

RewardExpert found that Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the busiest in the country, expecting 8,194 inbound and outbound flights over the holiday weekend. The second busiest is O’Hare International Airport with 6,629 flights, followed by Dallas Fort Worth International Airport with 5,728 during the holiday period.

Travelers going through those three airports should expect long lines during check-in and security. To cut down on wait time, download your airline’s mobile app and check in to your flight before heading to the airport. You’ll receive a digital boarding pass, which will allow you to bypass the check-in counter and head straight to the security line. If you have to check a bag in, this method is still faster because there is typically a shorter “bag drop” lane for people who checked-in online.

Stay on top of add-on fees

The easiest way to save money is to avoid airline fees, especially for things like baggage. For instance, low-cost carrier Spirit offers cheap fares but charges $28 for a carry-on bag if it is declared at booking. That said, it will cost $38 if you declare the bag during online check-in, $57 to declare the bag at the ticket counter, and $65 if you hold off until the boarding gate. In this scenario, planning ahead will save you some major money.

When it comes to checked baggage, most major airlines will charge $25 for the first bag (JetBlue and Southwest do not charge for the first bag). However, if you booked with a credit card, reading the fine print could save you money.  Many airline cards (including Delta, American, and United) will waive the $25 fee for a checked bag if the traveler is a cardholder. These credit cards are only helpful if you take advantage of what they have to offer, so make sure you’re up to date on all of their perks.

Destinations to consider

From the beach to the mountains, there are a ton of different ways to celebrate Labor Day weekend. The key, however, is to find a place that won’t break the bank. According to Expedia, Las Vegas, Austin, and Honolulu will be 10% cheaper than last year, based on airfare and hotel bookings.

Brittany is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. 

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