Planning to visit Aunt Sue’s for Thanksgiving or spend Christmas in New York? The holiday season is notoriously one of the most heavily-traveled times of the year, with millions of Americans flying to friends, relatives, or warmer weather.
Planning an affordable flight to join family and companions over the holidays can be notoriously busy, expensive and stressful—but the news isn’t all bad, providing you shop carefully, plan ahead and keep your composure.
Check out these eight holiday travel tips and find some joy this holiday season.
If you haven’t already booked your holidays flight, it’s GO time—so get busy and get your tickets. With so much consolidation in the airlines, there are fewer flights and routes. If you’re leaving the pets at home, make kennel reservations now.
Follow airlines on social media for promo codes, sales and last-minute deals you may have missed otherwise.
Booking sites like Expedia and metasearch sites such as Kayak allow you to search hundreds of travel sites at once to compare prices. They make it easy to see a lot of options.
Check out opaque sites like Hotwire and PriceLine for the opportunity to bid on flights or rooms, or buy them immediately for the stated price. On opaque sites, the supplier (hotel, airline) remains hidden until the purchase is complete. Both of these sites have been around for years, helping travelers bag the best bargains on airfares, lodging, and car rentals.
In addition, sites like BetterBidding.com and HotelDealsRevealed.com cover both Hotwire and Priceline deals, and help you get the most for your money. They provide other travelers’ listings of various hotel star ratings in different regions of cities. You can use this with the sites’ message boards (users say what price they bid for) to make sure you pay the least for your hotel while still get the highest star rating. They’re always worth a look before you enter an opaque bid or accept an opaque price.
Travel at Non-Peak Times/Airports
Flying on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day will be more affordable and less crowded. You can generally guess which dates will be the most expensive (everyone will want to maximize long weekends without taking too many days off work—and that’s probably when it fares will be highest).
You can always “search adjacent days or airports” to show you which date combinations will give you the best deal. Adding or subtracting a day could also lead to additional savings. If you can fly home any day other than Sunday, you’ll likely pay less. Using a less travelled but neighboring airport could save both time and money—with easier parking, more choices on rental cars, and less traffic to and from nearby hotels. Note that smaller airports see fewer flights and, typically, fewer delays.
Another way to get discounts is via air/hotel or air/hotel/car bundled deals through airline or hotel loyalty programs or travel rewards credit cards. Senior and student discounts abound. Some air/hotel packages use cheaper airfares than you’ll find on Kayak, Orbitz, etc.
Leave Yourself Plenty of Time
The holidays are such a chaotic time crunch since just about everyone in the country is traveling at the same time. So, if possible, get to the airport early. Make sure to give yourself enough lead-time for crowds or unexpected problems—such as weather problems, traffic jams, full parking lots, absent shuttles and long lines.
Give yourself plenty of time at the airport to check in and get through security screening, even if you’re authorized for expedited screening from programs like TSA’s Pre Check, Global Entry, and CLEAR, or you have elite status from a major airline.
Packing lightly is a smart move—you’ll avoid the check-in line and checked baggage fee. Try packing everything for your trip in a single piece of TSA-approved carry-on luggage and bring along your personal item, such as a backpack, laptop case or purse. Read your airline’s checked bag policies and fees in advance to avoid surprises.
Know the TSA rules about how to prepare for and how to conduct yourself at airport security.
Take Advantage of Shortcuts
Online self-service can be a tremendous time-saver during peak travel times. The night before your trip, give your cell phone a full charge, and download your airline’s app so you’ll get alerts if your flight is delayed or your gate changes. If you can, pre-print your boarding passes at home or pull them up on your smartphone. This way, if you can get away with just a carry-on, you’ll skip one wait line and head straight to security.
Another way to save time and lighten your load is to buy gifts or presents online and have them delivered to your destination. You’ll be able to skip the airport check-in line and the charge for checking them in as baggage.
If you must take the gifts with you, don’t wrap them. Wrapped gifts will very likely need to be unwrapped for inspection by security personnel.
Remember to Relax and Have Fun
Delays and airports around the holidays mean you will be around lots of kids, families, dogs, and maybe some screaming babies.
Pack your patience. Don’t lose your temper, stay calm even if things go wrong. If you sense delays or cancellations are coming, be prepared. Things like an iPad, Kindle, neck pillow, noise-cancelling headphones, and snacks can make you as comfortable as possible. When the captain announces you’re ready to take-off you’ll be happy knowing you’ll be home eating Aunt Sue’s pumpkin pie soon.
Resources: Smarter Travel Media, LLC, Samantha-Brown.com, U.S. News & World Report