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The Best Ways to Give the Gift of Travel This Holiday Season

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We all know someone who needs a vacation more than another scarf or sweater this year.

I understand the urge to want to help that person in your life with a thoughtful gift, but what do you get them? Whether they're a seasoned traveler or have yet to embark on their first trip, people can be picky – and it's hard to know the nuts and bolts of someone's schedule well enough to book things far in advance, even if you're super close to them.

That said, I've been both the sender and receiver of some epic holiday travel gifts over the years, and I'm living proof that there are some valuable and flexible ways to book travel for friends and family as a holiday gift. And for all you procrastinators out there, in almost every case, the gift of travel is something you can do at the very last minute!

From a gift card to get the ball rolling on a future trip to booking their flights or hotels or surprising the traveler in your life with an experience for a trip they already have booked, these are our favorite ways to gift travel this holiday season.


Gift Cards for Future Trips

Gift cards are the best, least complicated, and most flexible way to gift travel. You just buy the traveler in your life a gift card to the airline, hotel, resort, or home rental platform of your choice and let them run wild with it.

The flexibility of this method is unmatched. The recipient gets to use it how they want when they want.

Airline gift cards are especially useful. Buying the traveler in your life a gift card with American, Delta, or United can go a long way toward a future vacation. Even if it's not enough to cover the full amount of a ticket, the gift card can take the edge off high flight prices, or help a traveler book into a comfier seat for their journey to wherever.


Gift Card Rack


The same goes for hotels. If you've heard the traveler in your life gushing about a property they want to stay at, look it up and get them a gift card at that hotel brand. Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, and Marriott are all great options for this because they have so many hotels under their umbrella. It means a traveler can use a Hyatt gift card to book a long weekend in Chicago, or an all-inclusive stay in Tulum, Mexico. Their choice!

When it comes to lodging, though, in my opinion, an Airbnb gift card is king. Airbnb gift cards can go a long way toward locking in lodging for your next trip, but you don't just have to use them to book stays. There's also the entire network of Airbnb Experiences that can make a trip special.

That means the gift recipient can use the Airbnb gift card to secure lodging or use it to book local cooking classes, day trips, tours, tastings, and more!


Airbnb Gift Card


If you're looking for something similarly flexible, travelers can buy what's called the Global Experiences Card, which is in essence a gift card to the popular tour booking site Viator.com.

Let your imagination run wild. You can book gift cards for almost anything: Uber, Amazon, Starbucks, Southwest Airlines, and literally thousands of other travel companies.

And for all you procrastinators out there, all of these gift card options can be sent to someone instantly, meaning if you're reading this on Dec. 24, you're all set for Christmas morning!


Booking Flights For Others

Yes, you read that right. You can book flights for other people, no problem. When you go to checkout from the flights you've chosen, you simply put their names and birthdates in for the traveler information instead of your own.


Passenger info section of Delta flight booking


You'll have to know their date of birth and the exact spelling of their name on their passport, but if you can do that, booking flights for someone is a breeze.

Important note: If you want this to be a surprise, do not put the recipient's frequent flyer information when you book! That way, the flights don't show up in their accounts or email inboxes right away, spoiling the gift. They can always go back in and add their frequent flyer information and details like their TSA PreCheck number after the booking, no problem.

The downside of booking flights for others is that, if you're not careful, you could accidentally lock your gift recipient into flights that may not work for them. That's why it's crucial to always book main cabin or better fares so they're flexible for the traveler. 


Isla Holbox, Quintana Roo, Mexico


Say you booked those flights from Minneapolis (MSP) to Cancún (CUN) for your mom, but she has a doctor's appointment or something else immovable during that trip. If you booked Basic Economy, you can kiss that $506 goodbye. If you booked Main Cabin, your mom can change the dates and times of travel on the itinerary to match up with when she's available.

Plus, if she can't take the trip at all, she could always cancel for a voucher! That way, you're still gifting your mom $506 of travel on Delta, but now she can book the exact trip she wants at the perfect time for her.

Got a bunch of points and miles? Rather than gifting them to your friend or family member (more on that in a bit), use them to book a flight for them instead. Just be sure to book a main cabin or above award for maximum flexibility. And remember that if they cancel, those points return to you, not the gift recipient.

Whether you're using your points and miles or paying cash, so long as you book main cabin or higher – and leave their frequent flyer info out! – a flight can be a thoughtful and surprisingly flexible gift for the traveler in your life.


Add Something Extra to An Existing Trip

Grabbing your friends or family a flight or a gift card is probably the most valuable form of travel gift giving, but this is my favorite kind of gift for a traveler.

Instead of helping to book the big things of their trip like flights and hotels, gift the little things, instead. Here's what you do:

  1. Figure out what trip they already have planned and where they are going.
  2. Try to figure out where they are staying or at least the neighborhood.
  3. Scour that area for the coolest activities, events, or anything else, and make that your gift!

The best and easiest example of this is a spa treatment at the hotel. Say your friends are taking a long-haul flight. Pry into their travel itinerary a little bit and figure out where they're staying. Then call the hotel and book them a couples massage they can redeem during their stay.


le meridien maldives spa


This also works great for restaurants. You can use a gift card to take the sting off a fine dining hotspot or snag a hard-to-get reservation for someone in the city they're visiting.

In some cases, you can even buy a gift card for the hotel they're staying at to cover a night of room service, cocktails at the lobby bar, or maybe a trip to the spa!

The possibilities for this are endless but remember not to go too big. Don't book a full-day trip, something that starts at 6 a.m., or something else time-consuming or cumbersome. You don't want your recipients to think of your gift as a chore. The best ones are flexible, smaller experiences that they can enjoy on their own schedule.


A Year (or Two) of Cheap Flight Alerts

Everyone wants cheap flights, so give the travelers in your life the gift of cheap travel next year with Thrifty Traveler Premium, our flight deal alert service.

We'll send them alerts for the cheapest domestic and international fares for 2024 and beyond straight to their inbox – with up to $250 or much more off normal prices on each and every flight! It's the gift that keeps on giving and the best way to travel more for even less.

With our Thrifty Traveler Gift Cards, you can gift your favorite traveler a full year of cheap flight alerts. That includes dirt-cheap domestic and international deals, discounted business class tickets, and even award alerts to use your points and miles – from 200-plus U.S. and Canadian airports!

Heads up, current Premium members: We'll give you a $10 credit toward your next renewal for every gift card you purchase! 



You can either schedule an email to send their gift automatically or print out a code for them to enter when you're ready for the big reveal! Click the image below so you can print something out for a card or stocking!


tt promo code gift


Thrifty Tip: Pair a Thrifty Traveler Premium subscription with an airline gift card. That way, you'll know they are getting the absolute most of it!


Travel Gifts For Under the Tree

Our 2023 Holiday Gift Guide is chock full of travel accessories, luggage, gadgets, experiences, and memorabilia for travelers. If there's a great gift for the traveler in your life, this list has it.

The best part about getting “things” for people is that there is something to physically put under the tree. Pair one of these accessories with a plane ticket, Thrifty Traveler Premium membership, or an airline gift card and you have an intentional, thoughtful gift.

This guide has a little bit of everything, too. You can splurge on some nice luggage, bags, or gear, including the popular Away carry-on bags. You can get them the latest travel tech like the AirFly to connect your wireless headphones to the seatback screen, an e-reader like a Kindle, or a travel power outlet adapter. Have new parents in your life looking to get back to travel with a young family? Get them a lightweight travel stroller to fuel their family travels. The list also has portable espresso makers, neck pillows, phone cases, and more!


The Airfly. Photo Courtesy of Amazon


In an increasingly digital world, a little something under the tree is a good complement to any travel gift.


Can I Gift Points or Miles to Others?

Yes, but you shouldn't. Gifting miles is simply not a good deal.

Let's say you want to send a few thousand SkyMiles to your sister so she can book a Delta SkyMiles flash sale that just popped up, you're going to be paying a huge fee depending on how many miles you send over. Sometimes, those fees are exorbitant, too.

For instance, if I wanted to just gift my sister 2,000 of my SkyMiles, I'd have to pay a $70 fee to do so. If I wanted to send 10,000 SkyMiles, it's a $350 fee. If you wanted to send over 50,000 SkyMiles – which is just about what you need for two people to fly anywhere in economy on Delta – the fee is $1,750…


SkyMiles rate chart


Don't do this! Gifting points and miles is a sucker's game. I don't know why the airlines and hotels are so cruel about this, but considering you can just book a flight for someone for no fee whatsoever, this might just be the biggest ripoff in travel.


Bottom Line

We all know someone who needs a vacation. So, get them on their way with the gift of travel.

Gift cards, booking flights for others, adding experiences to their trips, flight deal alerts, and even travel accessories you can put under the tree are all fantastic ways to show the traveler in your life how much you appreciate them this holiday season.


Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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