Take the earliest flight of the day:
The holidays are a notoriously difficult time to fly, says Molly Fergus, general manager of TripSavvy. Winter weather and peak crowds mean that one cancellation can cascade down to multiple other flights. Even worse, bad weather in a busy airport can ripple throughout the whole country. The best holiday travel tip to hedge against canceled or delayed flights is to book the very first flight of the morning.
This holiday and winter travel season is poised to set records. As such, experts are urging travelers to begin planning now, as hotel and flight costs are rapidly rising. Travel booking site Hopper recommends booking both Thanksgiving and Christmas travel no later than Halloween. After Halloween, airfare is expected to increase by 40 percent.
Choose the right travel date for the best deal:
Choosing the right day for holiday travel is important, too. According to Hopper, the cheapest day to fly for Thanksgiving is Monday, November 22. For Christmas travel, the magic date for the best deals is Tuesday, December 21.
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. However, the less crowded options are an hour north in Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Both of these airports offer flights around the country and may have additional seating and lower prices than the larger hub.
Watch the weather:
Speaking of delays, winter holidays often mean rain, sleet, snow, and ice. All of these weather patterns can wreak havoc on your plans, whether you’re flying or driving. Make sure to watch the weather reports in advance of your trip and do your best to adjust. Ahead of a major weather event or storm, airlines typically issue flexible travel policies to allow travelers to postpone their trip. Travelers are given the option to select a later date. Others offer to move plans to an earlier date for no additional fees. You may even be able to choose an alternate destination. But, keep in mind, 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. 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.
Don’t wrap gifts before you fly:
Traveling with Christmas gifts? Don’t wrap them, regardless of whether you’re putting them in your carry-on luggage or checked baggage, advises Liberty Travel’s Christina Pedroni. If the TSA decides they need to inspect your items, they will have to unwrap them. And, says Pedroni, “if you plan to give bottles of wine as a gift, make sure to pack them in your checked baggage, as they will exceed liquid limits for carry-on bags and be refused at security.” FYI, the same goes for snow globes.
Research COVID requirements before leaving town:
Every state is handling COVID precautions differently. “In some cities, like New York City, to dine indoors you must have proof of vaccination or a negative test result within the last 72 hours,” says Fergus. Proof requirements will vary by city and state, too, so look up any apps that are accepted in your destination country and download them before leaving. Here are the other things that should be on your COVID checklist for your holiday travels:
Take a picture of your vaccination card. Then, put the card in a Ziploc bag or in an openable plastic protector, suggests Hampton. You’ll need the actual card at the airport to check in, but most restaurants accept a picture of it as proof. Or, download an approved COVID vaccine app that keeps track of your status.
Bring a home test with you, if possible. “Given we’re moving into cold season, it can come in handy for peace of mind,” says Hampton. “Recently when I traveled, my partner caught a cold. Since we were visiting his elderly parents, we wanted to be extra careful and used the home test to verify that it was just a cold. I suggest ordering it well before your trip and also keeping one or two on hand for the winter.”
Be sure to pack masks, hand sanitizer, and any other PPE that you may need while traveling and at your destination. And don’t let your guard down.
All of our experts note that bringing food, whether you’re driving or flying, is an important holiday travel tip. Some airports (and highway rest stops) are still operating at a reduced capacity, says Fergus. So, consider packing your own snacks and essentials for your flight. Bring a reusable water bottle to fill up at the airport, too, she says—just remember to empty it before going through security.
Buy travel insurance:
“The COVID-19 pandemic impacted virtually every traveler on the planet, and for that reason, we expect the demand for insurance coverage to remain high,” says Megan Moncrief, chief marketing officer at travel insurance company Squaremouth. “Close to 40 percent of our travelers who booked trips for this holiday season specifically sought out coverage for contracting COVID-19—that is the highest percentage we have seen since the onset of the pandemic.”
Just remember that travel insurance policies only apply to contracting COVID-19 and being quarantined, before or during your trip. Travel-delay coverage can also provide benefits if a traveler is quarantined at their destination and is unable to return home as scheduled. However, things like missing your flight due to long security lines, your passport not arriving, not getting a negative COVID test in time, or not wanting to travel due to vaccine requirements or general health concerns are not covered under a standard cancellation policy. In other words, a traveler would not be reimbursed if any of these COVID-related things caused them to cancel their trip.
Book your airport taxi in advance:
“In many places, availability for rideshare services like Uber and Lyft are reduced or have very long wait times,” says TripSavvy’s Fergus. Consider using an app’s book-in-advance feature to schedule your pick up or ride home. “You’ll have a (mostly) guaranteed ride that you can always reschedule should your travel plans change,” says Fergus.
Download travel apps:
Speaking of rideshare apps, before you head to the airport, load up your mobile phone with helpful travel apps. This includes downloading the one for your airline so you can follow flight schedules and get quick booking help. Other apps to download: a hotel booking option, a car rental company option, and a GPS option. While you’re at it, add YELP for restaurant and weather options, as well. The right road trip apps will also come in handy for everything from booking last-minute hotel stays to getting gas. In short, all of these will turn your phone into a virtual travel agent in an emergency.