Here come the holidays! Thanksgiving and Christmas are the busiest times to travel. For years, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving has been the busiest travel day of the year. But never fear! This is my ultimate holiday traveling guide, so never fear–I got you covered.
Using Frequent Flyer Miles
1. Blackout dates are going out of fashion, so it’s now a little easier to fly home for the holidays using miles or points! The downside is that holidays flights cost more miles than usual. For Thanksgiving this year, Steve and I used 100,000 “miles” (plus cash tax) to book two round-trip tickets from DC to Nashville, saving ourselves over $1300! We are going and coming back at peak times because that’s the most convenient for us and allows the most time to be spent with family.
2. Not a frequent flyer but still want to cash in on a flight deal? Get a credit card that gives you “points” to use on airlines. You’re already spending that money, so as long as you pay your credit card off every month, you need to be earning those rewards! Many airlines have their own credit cards with huge “mile” bonuses just for signing up, so you get a boost from the get-go. If you don’t have one of these credit cards yet, sign up for one and use it for all your holiday purchases. Pay it off each month so you don’t have to pay interest, and you could easily have enough points by New Year’s for a flight wherever you want to go, or save those up for a big trip next summer or the following holiday season.
3. Pay attention to the fine print. The only thing that gets my goat about earning and using miles for flights is that companies (airlines in particular) have gotten pretty willy-nilly with their value. Make sure you read the fine print and understand the rules. They will e-mail you with plenty of notice of any changes that occur, but don’t delete anything about your points and miles without at least giving it a once-over for pertinent information. The real points master is The Points Guy, so for more info on this topic, visit his website!
1. I’m a packing nerd. If you’ve read my Packing Strategies, you already know that. In short, roll your clothes, pack half of what you think you’ll need, and go carry-on only. How do you do all those things? You’ll have to click the link above and read the strategies!
2. Packing gifts can be tricky, especially if you go carry-on only like my husband and I do. It’s ok in most cases to wrap gifts before you pack them, since the x-ray machine can see through the wrapping paper, but be aware that a TSA agent might have to unwrap anything that looks unusual in your bags. You might be better off taking gift bags and tissue paper with you, since they fold up and fit easily into luggage.
If you will be gifting jams, jellies, preserves, sauces, beverages, corkscrews, knives (even a dip spreader), or anything that might be considered a weapon, you’re better off sending those things ahead of time. Flat rate boxes at the Post Office are free, and most ship for less than the cost of checking a bag at the airport (unless you get free checked bags with your airline credit card, which you might have been using to earn points for your flight).
1. Check in and check your flight status. This is very important! You can check in for your flight online or on your airline’s mobile app 24 hours before your departure time. As soon as you do, look at “Where is this aircraft coming from?” This will give you a heads-up on any weather-related or mechanical delays. If your aircraft is delayed at its previous destination (or two or three destinations previous), this will tell you. If your aircraft is coming from a snowy area in the middle of a blizzard, there’s your hint that your flight will likely be cancelled, too! If this is the case, be proactive and ask if the airline can move you to an earlier flight, or even reroute you if necessary.
2. Be early! Give yourself another 30 minutes to an hour, just in case. If you usually get to your airport two hours early, go ahead and be 2.5-3 hours early around the holidays. Check your departure time and make sure you have it right–this is not the time to think your flight leaves an hour later than it really does!
3. Be patient. More people are traveling at the holidays, which means there are more first time travelers and more infrequent travelers. They will have questions for the TSA officers, and they will bring things they shouldn’t, but remember that at one time, YOU were a first-time flier, too! There will be weather delays and cancellations. Instead of getting frustrated or mad, take a deep breath, count to 10 (or 100, whatever you need!), and realize that everyone’s in the same situation, just trying to get home with their families. Be the sunshine in someone’s day, not the storm cloud.