A Plan-Ahead Survival Guide for Holiday Travelers

A Plan-Ahead Survival Guide for Holiday Travelers

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Elizabeth Giorgi
Nov 14, 2014
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Air travel anytime can be a hassle, but during holiday rush times, it can really get stressful. The crowds, delays, winter weather, a packed schedule once you arrive at your destination; it all adds up. But, there are things you can do to make the whole process easier. Start planning now to avoid headaches later:

1. Get smart about carry-on policies:

While most common airlines in the U.S. are still offering free carry-ons, Spirit and Frontier no longer offer free carry-ons, ONLY personal items. Think anything small enough to fit under the seat in front of you. Rumor has it that many airlines in the U.S. are going to be switching their policies soon, so watch for potential mark-ups. Spirit charges $100 for a carry-on at the gate and Frontier charges $50.

2. Pre-pay for checked bags:

If you are going to use checked bags or you are flying on Spirit or Frontier, pay for your bags when you buy your flight to get the best price. This will require you to buy through the airlines' respective websites, but it's worth it to save the money.

3. Use a bag that fits under the seat, but maximizes space:

The average space under the seat of an airplane is about 20 inches tall and about the same width. This isn't much space, but it often goes unused. With all the changes in flight policies, I guarantee you'll be using it a lot more. I've been test driving a few bags that maximize space and offer enough room for one laptop, a small purse and three days worth of clothing and have landed on one that is 18.5 inches wide and 13.5 inches high - just the right amount of real estate to actually be useful. In fact, I found it holds just as much as my traditional carry-on roller held.

4. Ship presents directly to your family and friends:

There are two ways to be smart about this: plan ahead and shop online only and then ship items directly to recipients. Or shop small items and use flat rate shipping at the Post Office to send your items in bulk. Both options prevent huge total spending increases and guarantee quick delivery.

5. Pre-order gifts from local retailers and pick up when you arrive at your destination:

Searching for the best local shops at your holiday destination is a great way to support local communities. If they don't have online ordering, simply call. Most shops are happy to hold items for you if you are willing to pre-pay over the phone. Even most big box stores will let you place an order online and pick up the item at your destination of choice as long as they have a local store there.

6. Print your boarding passes at home:

Holiday travel ultimately means lines. Lots of lines. Avoid one of them entirely by checking in for your flight before you leave the house and printing your boarding pass at home too.

7. Be smarter with your smartphone:

Did you know you can Google any flight number in the United States and get instant flight status? This is a simple life saver that can keep you in the loop when airlines aren't doing a great job of giving you updates. Additionally, apps like TripIt keep track of multi-leg travel plans with even more ease by setting up the trips like a calendar.

8: Pack external battery power in your carry-on:

Power charging stations are becoming more and more common at airports, but there are never enough. Get a backup charger with an Anker External Battery or something similar.

9. Avoid Uber Surge Pricing:

Uber is a great way to get to the airport, but I would bet that won't be the case during the holidays. Surge pricing could mean your ride to the airport is more expensive than the trip itself. Consider a service like Lyft instead or, better yet, take public transit. If those aren't options, ask around— lots of people at your workplace or in your neighborhood are probably also traveling for the holidays and splitting parking may be the cheapest route.

10. Travel on the holiday itself:

The day before a major holiday is always a headache at the airport and can often be the most expensive flights. Check flights on the holiday itself and just try to get in early. You'll not only save money, you'll save a ton of time.

What are your tried and true travel tips?

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