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Travelling over the holidays can be notoriously busy, expensive and stressful, but the news isn't all bad. There are still deals to be found, provided you shop carefully and plan ahead. Check out our 10 tips for holiday travel and find some joy this holiday season.
Consult a travel professional.
Contrary to popular belief, a travel agent won't cost more than planning your travel yourself. In fact, it's possible you will pay less than booking a the travel yourself because agents might be aware of promotional offers and occasionally have access to exclusive deals. In addition, you save a lot of time and could get great advice that makes your trip more enjoyable. In that case, you end up getting better value for your money.
Avoid peak travel dates.
At Thanksgiving, Wednesday is the critical outbound "avoid" day as a rule. Traveling on Thanksgiving day proper is often a breeze and more affordable; there are often cut-rate airfare deals on Thanksgiving day.
On the return, Friday morning isn't bad at all, with each successive day getting a little busier, more difficult and more expensive through Sunday evening. The bottom line: If you are looking for a deal, you won't find one on the peak travel days. Travel off-peak whenever possible.
Christmas and New Year's Day fall on Sundays this year, which means that the Friday before and the Monday after will be extremely busy.
Haven't booked your holiday travel yet? It's time to stop waiting and start booking. Fares are only rising as the holidays approach, so those who hold out in hopes of a late-breaking sale are likely to get left out in the cold or pay a very steep price for their procrastination. Book sooner rather than later, particularly if you require very specific travel dates or times. With the current state of the airline industry, it is never too early to book your holiday travel flights. In fact, you can begin booking 330 days prior to travel! While many of the best deals are probably already gone, keep an eye on our specials or call our office for any last-minute bargains. Be prepared to be flexible with dates and flight times.
Often prices vary greatly from one travel day to the next or traveling into an alternate airport. Checking alternate airports is a pretty standard tactic, but at this time of year it can really make a difference. At no time can the alternate airport gambit pay off better than during the holiday crush. You can score on almost every front -- parking, rental cars, traffic to and from, nearby hotels -- and save both time and money.
Also, keep in mind that smaller airports see fewer flights and, typically, fewer delays -- not a minor consideration during the busy holiday travel season.
Plan connections carefully.
When booking flights, consider your connections carefully for sufficient time during layovers, and build in some time for flight and weather delays. Particularly during the winter months, peak travel times often bring peak travel delays, and your connection is more likely to be jeopardized. Avoiding really tight connections may save you a sprint through the terminal or a missed flight. If possible, try to keep connections in warmer climates to avoid weather delays.
During peak travel times, much of the trouble you'll face lies on this side of the security check-in, from traffic jams and full parking lots to absent shuttles and long lines
Insider's tip: If you have a morning flight, consider staying in an airport hotel the night before. Hotels often offer "park and fly" packages that are competitive with parking only rates. That way you avoid any weather delays on the early morning drive to the airport, catch the hotels shuttle to the airport and arrive relaxed and rested. Call our office for current park-and-fly packages.
In the past, you may have been able to fit everything into your carry-on without having to check any baggage -- a strategy we still recommend. However, the TSA rules about liquids and gels make this a trickier proposition. For the record, you may bring liquids and gels in 3.4-ounce or smaller containers, packed within a single, quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag. If you want to bring more than the 3.4-ounce amount, you'll have to pack the items in your checked luggage.
Check the TSA website (www.tsa.gov) for the most current information.
Once through security, you can purchase larger liquids - such as water or coffee - to take onto the plane with you. When packing, keep in mind that most airlines are now charging travelers a fee for checking any bags on domestic flights (and even some international ones). Consult your airlines website for their most current rules and restrictions.
Check in before arriving at the airport.
The latest self-service developments in online travel can be tremendous time-savers during peak travel times. Most airlines allow on-line check in 24 hours prior to departure. Whenever possible, print your boarding passes at home from the airline website or use check-in kiosks. These services are no longer restricted to the airport, and can be found in hotels and other places in increasing numbers.
Travel early or late in the day.
As a rule, airports are least congested at times when normal human beings would rather be at home or even asleep. Delays are far less likely for morning flights, and airports usually unclog as the afternoon and evening peak passes.
A couple of caveats: Staffing can be spotty for really early flights, so although your flight is highly likely to be ready to leave on time, check-in may take a while, along with other personnel-dependent steps like riding shuttle buses.
Consider package deals.
Peak travel periods can be the best time to buy package deals, even for folks who would never buy one, as the bundled pricing offered by packages can be very competitive, even (or especially) at times of high demand.
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