1. KNOW WHEN TO GO (AND WHEN TO BUY)
Nothing makes your travel more stressful than showing up to the airport early and finding that everyone else had the idea to leave at the exact same time as you (and when I say everyone, I mean everyone). Crazy travel crowds not only make you more stressed, but make lines longer, and travel processes slower. So before you go, make sure you do your research on when the crowds are thin, and airline seats are abundant.
In most cases, tickets are cheaper when you book a flight that departs at the beginning of the week, around Monday or Tuesday. And if you can, book your return flight to land in the middle of the week, between Tuesday to Thursday. Once the weekend hits, fares go up and crowds get bigger. Also knowing when to buy is just as important as the actual departure, if not more so! Fares are generally cheaper when you’re looking on a Sunday, and if you can’t swing that, aim to buy your ticket on a Tuesday.
2. CONSIDER YOUR OPTIONS
If you’re like me, you’ve probably found all the airlines, hotels, and any travel in between that you like, and you’re loyal to those companies. While this can be a good thing (like if you’ve invested in membership status and get perks), it can also limit you from finding great deals. Make sure to keep your options open when booking for the holidays, and take a stab at using sites like Travelocity to compare fares between airlines and hotels. You never know, it may just uncover a deal you never would have found otherwise!
3. GO MOBILE
A trick that also makes your travel infinitely faster is going mobile on as many elements of your travel as possible. For instance, instead of getting a paper boarding pass, opt to download a mobile boarding pass and any other useful documents for your travel. That way, you won’t have to worry about misplacing your passes, or digging around in your overflowing holiday luggage to find your crumpled documents. Bonus: No wasted paper!
4. GET AHEAD OF THE LINE
There are a couple of ways to beat the crowds when heading to the airport for your holiday flight. First and foremost, I always advocate for the smart traveler to apply for TSA Pre-Check. I’ve said it once, and I’ll gladly say it again—paying for this simple luxury is well worth the small fee! Especially during the holiday season, you will never be more grateful than ever to be able to skip that long and winding line leading up to the security checkpoint. Even saving a few extra minutes can be valuable when trying to catch a flight home for the holidays. Second of all, don’t forget to check into your flight ahead of time. This may seem obvious, but simply being in the front of the line to board the plane not only gives you ample choice of seating (if not assigned), but also gives you a few minutes to get settled and relax before taking off.
5. BE AS FLEXIBLE AS POSSIBLE
While this one isn’t always viable for everyone, it can be a great tool for cheap and less crowded travel. If your schedule allows (and you’re up for it), try traveling onthe holiday you’re aiming to celebrate. Especially if your flight is a short one, an hour or two in the early morning of your Christmas or New Year’s Day won’t put a dent in your holiday. Since traveling directly on these holidays is less popular, fares will be significantly cheaper, and crowds will be fewer and far between. Additionally, be flexible with your time. Try to catch a red-eye if possible, or opt for early morning or late night flights. While most people would prefer to sleep, trying one of these options can reduce your travel time, fees, and crowds, and you can always catch some shut-eye on the plane.
6. DON’T GO STRAIGHT TO YOUR DESTINATION
Of course, this one might not be possible in every location, but you’d be surprised at how many airports can be packed within a reasonable distance in some states. If you can, try avoiding the big, bustling airports, and fly into a smaller nearby airport if it’s close enough to your destination. In some big cities, airports are within 30-45 minutes of one another, so instead of battling crowds at LAX or JFK, you’ll be strolling easy through your travels and get to your final destination quicker.
This is just scratching the surface, and there are dozens of travel hacks out there to make your holiday travels easier. The best advice I can give is to be flexible, and find what works for you and your schedule. While holiday travel won’t always be perfect, planning ahead can give you peace of mind and make for smooth sailing (or flying).
Do you have any tips to add to this list?
Good luck, and happy travels!
Photos: Gray Malin