18% of Student Loan Borrowers Can’t Afford Holiday Travel: How to Minimize Costs

holiday travel

Student loan borrowers plan to spend an average of $1,977 on holiday travel in 2017, according to a new Student Loan Hero survey.

That’s too much for some people, however. Nearly one-fifth of respondents say they can’t afford to travel at all during the holidays.

Here’s a breakdown of holiday travel costs student loan borrowers are facing this year as well how how they plan to pay for them.

Breaking down holiday travel costs for student loan borrowers

The cost of holiday travel can vary wildly depending on how you plan to get from point A to point B — not to mention the costs you’ll incur after you arrive. Holiday travel costs go up even more if you’re traveling with kids.

More than half of the survey’s respondents plan to fly, while 43 percent will use a personal vehicle. And 3 in 5 people plan to pay for their accommodations, while the rest have arrangements to stay with family or friends.

Find out how your holiday travel costs compare with our survey results below.

Air travel

More than half of respondents plan to spend between $251 and $750 on airline tickets. Here’s how the rest of our survey respondents stack up:


Almost two-thirds of people who plan to drive a personal vehicle will spend less than $200 on gas. However, 1 in 10 plan spend more than $400.


For travelers who aren’t planning to stay with family or friends, accommodations include hotels, resorts, Airbnb, and motels. Although roughly a quarter of respondents plan to spend less than $250, more than half plan to spend $500 or more.

Miscellaneous costs

For some people, other travel costs end up costing the most. Food, airport and hotel parking, a rental car, and other expenses can add up fast. Although 7 in 10 people plan to spend less than $500 on these miscellaneous costs, they can surpass $1,000 for others.

7 ways you can afford your holiday travel this year

About 1 in 5 student loan borrowers can’t afford holiday travel this year. For those who plan to travel, however, it isn’t necessarily easy to come up with enough cash for the trip.

Here are seven ways you can make your holiday travel more affordable.

1. Cut back

In the months leading up to your holiday travel, find areas in your budget to trim. For example, 21 percent of student loan borrowers are giving up their restaurant and entertainment spending to afford their travel plans.

You also can consider decreasing how much you spend on other holiday-related expenses. For instance, instead of a bunch of expensive presents, your family likely would prefer a visit from you.

2. Opt for a cheaper destination

If your holiday travel plans don’t include visiting family, choosing a less expensive itinerary can make it possible to travel without breaking the bank.

In fact, 1 in 5 student loan borrowers plan to use this strategy, which includes avoiding top holiday travel destinations. Here are the top five based on survey responses:

  1. New York City, New York
  2. Orlando, Florida
  3. Los Angeles, California
  4. Las Vegas, Nevada
  5. Miami, Florida

This plan might require some extra research, but there are plenty of exotic destinations that won’t charge an arm and a leg over the holidays.

3. Get a side gig

Eighteen percent of respondents say they’re earning extra money with a side hustle. Whether it’s babysitting, driving for Uber or Lyft, or taking on some freelance work, finding a good side gig can give you the extra income you need to afford holiday travel costs.

It also can be profitable. According to a 2017 study by online lender Earnest, 85 percent of side gig workers make up to $500 per month.

4. Sell unwanted items

Over the years, you’ve likely accumulated things you no longer use. Instead of letting them gather dust, snap a picture and sell your unused items on Craigslist or other local marketplaces.

Eleven percent of respondents plan to go this route. It doesn’t require a budget sacrifice, and there’s not a lot of work involved.

5. Plan your travel dates carefully

The end-of-year holidays are among the busiest times to travel, so it’s essential to plan your departure and return just right, especially if you’re flying.

According to data from CheapAir, here are the cheapest days to fly for holiday travel in 2017.

Holiday Depart Return
Thanksgiving November 19-20 November 24-25
Christmas December 19-20 December 27
New Year’s December 27-29 January 2 or later

6. Take advantage of credit card rewards

Thirty-six percent of student loan borrowers plan to use a credit card to book their holiday travel this season. If that’s your plan, consider how you can maximize the value you get in return for using your credit card.

If you already have a stash of credit card rewards, consider using them to pay for part of your trip. If not, you can use the trip to earn rewards for an upcoming vacation.

For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card offers a sign-up bonus worth $625 in travel when redeemed through Chase. To get it, you have to spend $4,000 in the first three months after opening the card. So, if your holiday travel costs are close to the average of $1,977 and you put them on the card, you’re already halfway there.

7. Plan your trip in advance

The longer you wait to book your trip, the fewer options you’ll have, which can drive up your costs. Comparing prices from different airlines and hotels is also critical to making sure you get the best deal.

Based on our survey, here are the top five websites respondents used to plan their holiday travel:

  • TripAdvisor (25 percent)
  • Expedia (12 percent)
  • Hotels.com (10 percent)
  • Airbnb (10 percent)
  • Kayak (6 percent)

Avoid adding debt to your holiday travel plans

The average Class of 2016 graduate left school with $37,172 in student loan debt. That debt can be overwhelming, and adding more to it to pay for a vacation can exacerbate the problem.

If you plan to use a credit card to pay for your holiday travel, it’s essential that you pay off the bill in full to avoid interest. If you plan to carry a balance, any interest you’d pay could neutralize some or all of the value you gained in the form of rewards.

To avoid going into debt, apply the money-saving techniques listed above to keep your costs low. That way, you’ll be able to enjoy the holidays like you want to without having to pay for it for months to come.

Methodology: Student Loan Hero gathered the above results through a Survey Monkey survey completed on October 18, 2017. The survey collected responses from 1,008 millennials and Generation Xers. Less than 1 percent of respondents were baby boomers.

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