If you’re among the tens of millions of Americans travelling by air during the holiday season, then you’ve either bought a ticket or are sweating bullets because you’re waiting for whatever reason. There are many considerations about when to buy your ticket and how you should go about your travels. There is however, a bottom line; you want the cheapest and most hassle free travel experience. Air travelers, we are here to help you by providing some tips and tools to make that happen for you this holiday season.
The Cheapest Airfare
Experts tell us that there is no perfect formula when trying to purchase the cheapest airline ticket. Fortunately, they provide us with plenty of information that you can take advantage of. Follow along as we share the trade secrets.
This one’s a biggy so let’s tackle it first. The majority of people opt for booking their tickets well ahead of time. That doesn’t necessarily mean they got the best deal, but for those of us who like to roll the dice remember that your window is shrinking.
The best rule of thumb is to buy your airline ticket by the holiday that precedes it at the latest. Buy a ticket for Thanksgiving by Halloween, and buy a ticket for Christmas by Thanksgiving (New Year’s is the exception; buy your ticket by Thanksgiving). The reason is that prices begin to pick up everyday within about a month of the specific holiday. If you really procrastinate and wait until ten days or less before the holiday, expect to lose out on a lot of cash.
Tools – If only there was a way to set up alerts when airfare prices change. Well, good news: there is! Use apps Google Flights, Skyscanner, and Hopper to automatically keep track of the best prices for airline tickets. Set up alerts to notify you when prices change for your favorite airlines and destinations.
If you set up your alerts and have taken into consideration that you should buy your ticket sooner than later then you’re ready to dive a little deeper into how to save. Experts say that generally, booking and flying on a Tuesday or Wednesday will get you the cheapest tickets. That doesn’t apply to the holiday season. With Thanksgiving eternally falling on a Thursday, the Wednesday prior becomes the most expensive day to travel. Want to know when the cheapest days of the season are to travel? Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. We know you probably don’t want to travel on those days, but if you’re flexible you can save a lot of money.
Okay, so you don’t want to spend your holiday on a plane, or even worse stuck at the airport. Data from our friends at Skyscanner and Hopper tell us that five days before and after the holiday in question prices drop from their holiday peaks. For those of you who do not have 8-10 vacation days to spare consider using 1-2 extra days to travel two days plus or minus the holiday. Prices are much better than the day before and after the holiday (Black Friday being the lone exception).
What else, you ask? Here’s an interesting fact: Black Friday is the cheapest day to fly during the four day Thanksgiving weekend. Airlines are also trying to grab your business on the biggest retail sales day of the year. Also, Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, and a lot of people will have Monday off in observance of the holiday. This should give you more flexibility in your travel plans and we recommend you use that to your advantage!
Tip – Last minute deals are rarer this year than ever. Even if they did exist consider that airlines are doing very well right now. Fuel costs are low, bringing ticket prices down, so more people are travelling. Airlines have little incentive to offer low cost tickets this holiday season. They won’t have to budge in their pricing too much to get all of their seats filled.
Okay, you have your tickets or at least a plan on how and when you’re getting them. Great! If you’ve traveled during the holiday season in past years then you know what a zoo it is at the airport security line. With data indicating that this will be the busiest travel season yet we advise you to read these expert tips to make your visit as painless as possible.
Arrive Early! Does it go without saying? Okay, but we have to mention it. Record numbers of travelers are going to overload security lines at just about every airport in the country. Arrive at least three hours before your flight to make sure you make it to your gate on time.
Tip: Sign up for TSA PreCheck. If you don’t like hassles and long waits then pay $85 for five years of going to the front of the line and not taking your shoes off. TSA PreCheck members enjoy special privileges that make them the object of envy to woeful travelers.
The Dreaded Security Line
We’ll save you the suspense, this is probably going to be the worst part of your whole trip. It’s a necessary evil that some of us experience just once a year, and others all too often. During the holidays these lines move at a snail’s pace. This is mostly because the extremely high volume of people in line overwhelm security checkpoints. There are also other factors at play that you can help control. Follow these tips to make sure that when it’s your turn to be checked you’ll move through the line with ease.
If you have gifts, and are worried they’ll get damaged if you check them, do not wrap your gifts! The TSA will not hesitate to open them if they see something suspicious in their x-ray scanners.
When it comes to carryon bags 22” x 14” x 9” is still the norm for most airlines. Expect them to be stricter this time of year about size regulations. Flights during the holiday season tend to be full.
Containers holding less than 3.4 ounces of liquid is still the rule. Packing a snow globe for Christmas? You might want to rethink that.
warning! The FAA has banned Galaxy Note7 smartphones from all US flights as of October 15, 2016.
Know Your Airport
The TSA and airports are working together to get better at responding to surges of people and allocating resources appropriately. While we applaud this effort we have yet to see wait times go down during the holiday season. Until that happens follow these next tips to make your airport visit less of a hassle.
Airports can be big, and others are enormous. Passengers often forget how long it could take just to get to your gate. It could be a long dreadful walk, a bus ride, or a train. This can add a lot of time, so it’s important to be familiar with the airport before you arrive.
Tool – Download the GateGuru app for detailed maps and information on every airport in the country. It keeps tabs on wait times for security lines, allowing you to choose one and bypass others. It has maps with bathroom, retailer, and restaurant locations. If you find yourself in unfamiliar territory this app may become your best friend. Oh, and even better, it works offline. You can still obtain data while in flight before you touchdown.
We hope your travel experience is made easier by considering some of these tips. It seems like every year even the best travelers are surprised by some unexpected inconvenience at the airport. The best we can do is be prepared with what resources we have available. If we do, then we stand a much better chance of enjoying the holidays like they’re meant to be.