Follow the golden rules for stress-free air travel: First things first, say the travel experts at AAA, “Book early for the best deals and availability on hotels, airfare, and car rentals.” How much will you save? According to Expedia, last-minute bookers pay 15 percent more than travelers who reserve in advance.
Sitting in the back of the plane? Here’s how to make economy feel like first class.
Work with a travel agent
Travel agents often have access to extra amenities and added benefits to plan a magical holiday getaway and help you avoid airport mistakes, according to AAA. They can also be a tremendous help in the event something changes or goes wrong on your trip. In other words: If your flight is delayed or canceled, you’ll have a pro in your corner solving issues for you, and it won’t cost you an extra dime for their expert help and conflict resolution. These popular travel tips are actually no longer true.
If your schedule permits, avoid peak travel days. For 2017, according to Expedia, the busiest travel days will be the Wednesday before and the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and given that Christmas is on a Monday this year, you can expect the Friday and Saturday before to be massive travel days. Leaving a day or two early and staying a day later can save you a lot of money and time spent in transit. Or consider flying on the holiday itself, when air traffic is light and prices are low. These are the things airlines won’t tell you—but you’ll definitely want to know.
Watch the weather
Winter holidays often mean rain, sleet, snow, an ice, which brings air delays exactly when you’re getting ready to fly. Protect your plans by watching the weather reports in advance of your trip. Ahead of a major weather event or storm, airlines typically waive all change fees and issue flexible travel policies to allow travelers to postpone their trip to a later date or move plans to an earlier date for no additional fees. You may even be able to choose an alternate destination (but keep in mind that if you change the destination you may have to pay any difference in the fare).
Even if the weather is fine in your part of the country, keep an eye on your destination, and remember that when there’s a weather event that impacts some of the country’s busiest airports, the effects ripple out all over the country. This is the most weather-delayed airport in the country.
Consider alternate airports
One way to beat the crowds and cut down stress during the holidays is to fly in and out of airports that are traditionally less crowded. In Southern Florida, for example, flights into Miami may be full, but less than an hour north are Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach airports, which both offer flights around the country and may offer additional seating and lower prices than the larger hub airport. These are the best and worst domestic airlines.
Download travel apps
Before you head to the airport, load up your mobile phone with helpful travel apps, including the one for your airline to follow flight schedules and for quick booking help. Other apps to download: a hotel booking option in case you’re stuck at your destination or need to book an airport hotel, a car rental company option, and airport maps. While you’re at it, add YELP for restaurant options, LYFT for car service, and a weather option as well. All will turn your phone into a virtual travel agent in an emergency. One key thing to download: a map of airport Wi-Fi passwords all over the world. And did you know that your iPhone now displays a map of airport terminals?
Ace security checks
There are things that make you more likely to get flagged by the TSA. You can save yourself a lot of time and security line headaches by applying for TSA Precheck. You’ll skip the longest lines at security and get to keep your shoes, jackets, and belts on. The $85 fee covers you for five years, and if you’re a parent, your kids 12 and under can go into the Fast Pass line with you too.
Don’t have time to sign up for Precheck? Then know the TSA rules to avoid security delays: All liquids need to be less than 3.4 ounces and fit into one, 1 quart bag (the 3-1-1 Rule). Wondering whether your baby food and pumpkin pie can fly? Check out the TSA What Can I Bring page. (Spoiler alert: They’re both fine.)
Never pack anything you can’t live without in your checked baggage; medicine, mobile phone, glasses, baby binkies, are items that should always be in your carry-on bag. If you can’t live without it, keep it close. While you’re at it, bring snacks from home in case you’re stuck on the tarmac for a prolonged period of time. And don’t forget to carry on chargers for cell phones and portable electronics; they won’t do you any good if you can’t turn them on. Here are some sanity savers if you’re flying with kids in tow.