Most people think it is only the fearless and brave who travel by plane over the holidays, while the rest of us stay home snuggled in a chair by the fire drinking pumpkin spiced lattes.
Truth be told, I really don’t mind traveling during the holidays if you know how to plan it right. Whether you are heading to Grandma’s for Thanksgiving or spending Christmas in Paris, here are a few guidelines:
1. Embrace the Choice
You have made the decision to travel during the busiest time of the year. Embrace it, knowing somewhere along the way problems and chaos may pursue. Accept it, despite this knowledge. It will put you in a much better position to handle any lines and delays. If you go into it prepared, you might actually have a great time.
2. Avoid Peak Travel Days
Try to never fly the day before Thanksgiving or Christmas. We have often celebrated with friends and family on Christmas Eve and then left Christmas Day to enjoy a much-needed vacation after a crazy catering season. One year we took an easy afternoon flight to San Francisco on Christmas Day, and the airports were virtually empty. We treated ourselves to a wonderful holiday dinner for two at the Ritz Carlton before driving the next day to meet friends in Napa Valley. Leaving on the day most people want to already be somewhere makes for a much less stressful travel day.
3. Early or Late Flights Are Best
I hate early morning flights, but if you are willing to gut up and book the pre-dawn flight, you can almost always save on your ticket price and have a better airport experience with less flight delays. Most late night flights are less pricey as well.
4. Consider Holiday Packages
The competitiveness of the holiday season means you might find some great deals on hotel and flight packages. There are many good options on sites like Expedia, Hotels and Travelocity that offer incentives if you purchase a package that includes airfare, hotel, and car rental. Sometimes it’s cheaper to book a package even if you don’t take advantage of everything it comes with.
5. Check for Alternate Airports
If you are flying somewhere that has multiple airports within an hour of your destination you can often find a better deal if you are willing to drive a bit further upon arrival. We love to go to Santa Fe at Christmastime, but flying directly into Santa Fe on American Eagle usually costs more than flying into Albuquerque and driving.
6. Fly Direct
I always try to book a direct flight, even if the ticket price is a bit more. You can’t afford to miss a connecting flight during the holidays. With so many people traveling during this time, it could be several days before you can reach your destination if you miss that flight.
7. Consider Travel Insurance
If your ticket is non-refundable it’s just not worth taking the chance that something could happen to cause you to miss your flight, lose your luggage or have an accident. I just automatically buy travel insurance to cover at least the amount of money I have already invested. I like to use www.TravelGuard.com
8. Pack Light and try to avoid checking luggage
When I was younger, I packed so much stuff when traveling. I remember arriving at a hotel in New York only to have the doorman look at my luggage and ask: “You don’t trust your neighbors so you brought everything you own?” I have since learned to pack so light that I can get through 10 days in Europe with just a carry-on suitcase and a duffle bag serving as my purse.
9. Check-in Online
Check-in has never been so easy. Downloading the airline app you are flying and having your boarding pass on your phone is one less item you have to worry with. You can avoid the long lines by using GateGuru.com, which gives you approximate times you’ll spend in security lines. If you travel internationally the best way to avoid lines is to enroll in Global Entry, which automatically gets you TSA PreCheck. There are many credit cards that will waive the $100 Global Entry fee if you open an account.
10. Reserve Airport Parking
Reserve airport parking ahead of time online. Or better yet, catch an Uber to the airport or find a friend to drive you.
11. Use Your Membership Reward Points
Cash in those reward points for flights, accommodation, or upgrades. Do your research well in advance and book as soon as you can. It is the holiday season, so many people may be trying the same strategy.
12. Be Prepared
Show up for your flight extra early when traveling over the holidays. Make sure your phone is charged and has all relevant phone numbers, itineraries, and apps installed. The Tripit App Pro version automatically imports all bookings, and itineraries from your email into the app and updates you with any flight changes, delays and gate information. Even though I keep all of my information on my phone, I also print off a hard copy of my itinerary, travel insurance, reservation numbers, and anything else I may need if my phone is lost or stolen. I also keep a photocopy of my passport with me in case the actual passport gets lost or stolen.