College Connect: Planning ahead for student travel

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November usually marks the beginning of the yearning to take a break from the onslaught of midterms and endless amounts of papers waiting to be written. Going home in November means reconnecting with old friends about your wild college experiences and a chance to show off how much you’ve grown since leaving high school.

More importantly, going home for Thanksgiving and other holidays means feasting on roast turkey and pumpkin pie and spending much needed time with your family (in my case, soy-sauce chicken and an assortment of Cantonese cuisine because my Chinese-American family hates turkey for reasons I’ll never comprehend).

For those who don’t live down the highway or the next state over from where they go to school, going home is easy. Simply fill up your car and be home on your favorite spot on the sofa in no more than half a day.

For those of us who go to school half way across the country, going home is a much more arduous and sometimes costly process. Though I look forward to going home for most breaks, I never look forward to the planning process. I go to school in Columbia, Missouri, which is two hours from major airports in St. Louis and Kansas City. On top of planning for flights, I also have to factor in ground transportation to get ther.

Luckily for me, now that I’m a senior, I’ve learned how to make traveling home painless.

Planning your break travels begins the first day of the semester. When your professor hands out the syllabus outlining assignments and tests, not only should you be putting those on your calendar, but you should also be considering wheny you can  head home.

Once you have your schedule, make a mental note and book your ticket no earlier than three and a half months out and no later than 14 days before your trip. The later you wait, the more stressful and costly it is for you to book your flight.

See if you can avoid flying on Fridays and Sundays. According to U.S. News, those days  are usually the most expensive days to fly. U.S. News says Saturday is one of the cheaper days to fly. Wednesday is the cheapest, but a rigorous university schedule probably doesn’t allow that. Personally, I’ve had good experiences flying Saturday morning out and back Monday mornings from my home in California. It’s not too pricey and much cheaper than Sunday. I usually miss no more than one morning class when I do this.

Consider enrolling yourself in a frequent flier program and stick with that airline. For a college student, you might not fly as much as a traveling businessman but you might still get a free plane ticket later in your collegiate career. I started a frequent flier program with Southwest and I am now on the cusp of getting a free ticket with them. I also like Southwest because of no bag fees, and getting back and forth to college usually means lots of luggage!

Another idea is to take advantage of student discounts on sites like StudentUniverse, which sell student tickets to US and international destinations. While the discounts aren’t big, they often have more favorable change policies.  Membership is free for students.

If you have the credit rating, sign up for a credit card with a decent rewards program. I don’t have the credit to sign up for one myself, but when I started college, my mom signed me up for a card under her account so I can accrue points to spend on plane tickets. This card is meant to take care of bills and other necessary costs of going to school afar. My mom and my charges combine and over time, I’ve gotten enough points to have gotten several completely free flights.

If you use the card to pay big purchases like utilities, it hurts less to know that you’re getting a flight out of them. (My university, like others, adds a fee if you use a credit card to pay tuition or other university bills.)  One word of warning with this route is that cards usually have annual fees that kick in after the first year. The second thing is the only way this method is really effective is if the card is being used. I’m very fortunate that my mom uses her side of the card for her business purchases.

Another problem with this tactic is the annual fee. My mom and I talked about this at length but figured paying $95 a year still meant saving $300 a year on plane tickets.

Alternatively, if going home is too expensive, consider visiting a friend who lives in your region for the holidays. My friends from high school on the east coast can’t always fly across the country to California for every break, so they take turns visiting each other in Boston and New York for Thanksgiving. It doesn’t replace the feeling of seeing family, but it is a significantly cheaper way to stave off the homesickness and loneliness of spending a break alone.

These tips are not just limited to traveling over breaks, but can be applied to traveling any time. Knowing there are multiple ways to save money alleviates the headache of having to fly over break.


–Justin Yang is a senior in convergence journalism at the University of Missouri. He lives in Southern California.

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