The holidays are fast approaching, it’s the most wonderful time of the year! It’s also the most stressful and expensive time of the year, specially when it comes to air travel. Those of us who choose to travel for the holidays can look forward to high fares, crowded airports, packed planes, and weather delays. There’s not much we can do about these things, but here’s a few tips that may help you plan your holiday get away and take a bit of strain off your budget and nerves.
1. When deciding where to go for the holidays consider a destination you can drive to. Air fare for a family of 4 will be more expensive than the gas you will use to and from your destination, plus you don’t have to worry about airport security, luggage fees, and crowded planes.
Consider this: Driving from Tucson to Los Angeles takes about 6 hours; round trip air fare for the hour long flight for Thanksgiving weekend is pricing at $400 per person meaning $1600 for a family of 4 plus the cost of airport transfers or long term parking.
If you decide to fly you will have to arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before your flight is scheduled to leave. Depending on how far you live from the airport this means you will be heading for the airport at least 3 hours before your flight. So you will already be “traveling” for at least 3 hours before your one hour flight ever leaves the gate. If you were driving you’d be halfway to Los Angeles before the flight even departs Tucson! And you would have saves more than $1000 which you could use towards hotel, dining, and entertainment or whatever else you want.
2. If you do need to fly book your flights as early as possible. Hotels too if you need them. Prices are based on availability, they go up as flights and hotels fill up, so getting in before they do is a good idea. If you’re worried about price drops check out this site called Yapta.com it will track the price you paid for airfare and will alert you if it drops and you are entitled to a refund.
If you can be flexible about your dates or choose dates wisely. It’s cheaper to fly on the holiday than the day before. There are also a short window of cheaper airfare and hotel rates, it’s called the “dead week” the week just after Thanksgiving and New Year.
Try to book an early morning flight or a red-eye. Airports are less busy in the early hours, traffic builds up as the day goes on. It’s easier to navigate a less crowded airport and there will be shorter lines at check-in and security.
Book non-stop flights if possible. This avoids long layovers and decreases the chance that you may be delayed due to weather.
3. When you buy your tickets online make sure you choose your seats if possible. Some airlines like Southwest have no seat assignments but do charge a premium fee that allows you to board before the other passengers. It may be worth paying the fee during holiday travel to ensure you and your kids will be seated together. On other airlines if you can not find seats that are together just take the seats that are closest together, if possible get aisle or window seats, they’re easier to trade. When you arrive at the gate inform the gate agent you and your kids aren’t seated together, they may be able to find you seats that are. If all else fails you may be able to trade your seats with other passengers once everyone has boarded, this is when having aisle and window seats come in handy. It’s easier to find folks trade to an aisle or window seat, no one ever wants to trade for a middle.
|Last summer’s flight to Rome we had 4 seats in a row and 2 directly in front|
4. Pack lightly, avoid baggage fees by fitting your things in a carry-on bag. Also saves time and aggravation when you don’t have to drop off checked luggage and jostle with the crowds at baggage claim. Do check the baggage policies of airlines before you purchase tickets, some are now charging for carry-on bags as well.
Check this TSA website to know what you can and can not carry on and how to get thru security line faster.
5. If you will be bringing presents consider shipping them to your destination instead of checking bags in. Better yet take advantage of free shipping many online retailers offer during the holidays and have the gifts sent directly to your friends and family.
6. Check-in online 24 hours before your flight. This gives you a boarding pass which you can print or store on your mobile device, you can avoid check-in lines at the airport and head straight for security checkpoints. If you are checking in luggage you will have to drop them off at the baggage drop-off and get a luggage tag.
7. Arrive at the airport early. Allow yourself plenty of time to get thru all the lines and get to your gate. Getting seats close together at the gate is easier when it’s less crowded. You can stake a claim to your seats and settle in to wait for your flight to board.
8. Bring your own food. Yes there are many stores and restaurants by the gates but they too can have long lines and you may not have time to buy food. Pack non-perishable snacks and bring an EMPTY water bottle that can be filled once you get thru security. Also packing your own food saves money, airport food is costly. Airlines do sell meals and snacks in flight, but the choices are slim and the prices steep.
9. If you are traveling with an infant or toddler board last if you can. Other members of your party can board ahead to arrange carry-on bags into overhead bins, you and baby can hang out at the gate and board the plane at the end. It’s easier to keep young kids entertained at the gate than trying to keep them confined in an airplane seat for 45 minutes or more.
10. Keep kids entertained during the flight with books, toys, and mobile devices that you’ve packed in your carry-on. Also bring headphones so they can watch in-flight entertainment if it’s available.
11. Put your smart phone to work, there are many apps that will keep track of your itinerary, help you navigate airports, locate restaurants, and more. Download them before you leave home.
12. If you run into delays and cancellations know your travel rights. Barring bad weather or any natural disasters travelers do have rights. Bookmark these sites on your smart phone just in case.
Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration.
13. Consider purchasing a pass to an airport lounge if you have a long lay-over. They are much more comfortable than sitting at the gate. They usually have sofas, tvs, work stations, wi-fi, and many serve snacks and drinks.
|Alaska Airline’s Boardroom at the Sea-Tac Airport|
14. Consider buying travel insurance. I know it’s an extra expense but during the holiday travel season it may come in handy. Travel insurance may reimburse you for airline fees, hotel stays, lost luggage, and other things should you run into problems during your trip.