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Find deals and cut costs for holiday travel

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There’s no place like home for the holidays, and millions of travelers will be hitting the roads and airways this month to spend time with loved ones. If you haven’t finalized your holiday plans, here are some tips from travel experts on how to plan a cost-effective trip.

When determining whether to drive or fly, it’s important to consider the distance of the trip and mileage your vehicle gets, said AAA spokeswoman Jessica Brady.

AAA has a fuel-cost calculator at www.fuelcostcalculator.com, which allows travelers to input their starting city, destination and vehicle make, model and year.

“It uses updated gasoline prices from our fuel-gauge report, which are updated daily from over 100,000 gas stations in the U.S. Using that at first will let you know approximately how much it’s going to cost you to drive,” Brady said.

Then, the traveler can search for airline tickets, also factoring in baggage fees, and compare costs. For a family of three or four, it might be cheaper to drive and bring food. If driving is a hassle, Amtrak is an option. AAA members receive a discount on Amtrak, she said.

“It takes about the same amount of time as if you were to drive, but there’s no baggage fees associated with it and you can take food on the train,” Brady said.

It’s going to be difficult to find low-cost airline tickets on the dates immediately before and after Christmas, but there might be some deals available if your dates and times for travel are flexible and more spread out, said Patty Font, a travel agent at Augusta Travel Agency. Taking connecting flights can also make tickets cheaper.

Unless travelers are preferred frequent fliers, they will have to pay baggage fees. At most major airlines, the price is usually $25 for the first checked bag and $35 to $50 for the second bag.

Travelers should weigh their bags before heading to the airport so they’re not faced with an expensive surprise. Most airlines have a weight limit of about 50 pounds per bag.

“It’s cheaper for you to take an extra bag than it is to have an overweight bag,” Font said.

Delta allows fliers to check bags that weigh 50 pounds. A bag that weighs 51 to 70 pounds costs $90, plus the baggage fee. A bag that is more than 70 pounds is an extra $175. A third checked bag for Delta is $125.

Many people are shipping their holiday gifts rather than carrying them on the plane. Fliers can bring carry-on luggage at no cost, but there’s been a space issue on planes because everyone is trying to avoid baggage fees. If space runs out, travelers must be prepared to check their carry-on luggage, still free, but they should make sure there’s nothing breakable inside, Font said.

Diane Johnston, the director of marketing at Augusta Regional Airport, said that airlines have reduced capacities, meaning there are fewer seats available. Fares have also increased over the last month or two.

“If someone has waited this long, probably the best thing to do would be to go to a travel agent. They’ll charge you a little bit of a service fee, but they’ll typically find you the best fares that are out there,” Johnston said.

Travelers can also visit Web sites such as www.kayak.com or www.mobissimo.com to compare flight prices on numerous sites, such as Travelocity, Priceline and Orbitz, she said.

Lastly, fliers should check www.tsa.gov for information on prohibited items and security procedures.

They should also allow extra time at the airport and check with airlines to ensure flights are running on time, she said.

COUPONS

In Sunday’s issue of The Augusta Chronicle, the SmartSource insert has a coupon to save 40 cents on one pouch of Betty Crocker cookie mix, any flavor 17.5 ounces or larger. It expires Feb. 4.

HOLIDAY RETURNS

Here are some tips for stress-free returns from the National Retail Federation:

  • Know the retailer’s return policy before you buy. If the policy is not clearly displayed, ask a sales associate or manager to explain it. Most retailers have posted their policy on their Web site.
  • Save and file all receipts, and provide gift receipts with all holiday gifts. Receipts are the key to hassle-free returns. Though some retailers will allow consumers to exchange merchandise without a receipt, they will often only give credit for the lowest markdown price the item was sold for during the holidays.
  • Provide all original packaging and parts, including tags, for gifts. Some retailers won’t accept returns unless the item has its original packaging.
  • Make online returns easy. Before purchasing a gift online, know the process, such as who pays for return shipping (customer or merchant). Some merchants will pay for the delivery charges for exchanges, but not for returns. Others offer free shipping on all returns. Also, find out where the recipient can make returns, such as a retail store. In addition, make sure you have the correct address if you need to mail returns back to the company.


HAIRCUT HELPS KIDS

Cut-A-Thon: Visit Fringe Hair Salon from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. today to receive a free haircut. In lieu of payment, make a donation to benefit the Medical College of Georgia Children’s Medical Center. All Cut-A-Thon proceeds will be donated to the medical center.

Fringe Hair Salon is at 101 Maple Drive, Suite 6 in Augusta. For more information, call (706) 721-4004.


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