The holiday season is upon us, which means that many people will be traveling to visit relatives or to take a vacation. Packing, crowded airports, cramped seating and long waits can make one of the most stressful times of the year even more so.
If you are going to be traveling this holiday season, use the following tips to plan your trip, save money and make your journey more comfortable.
Booking Airline Tickets
Fly early on a non-stop flight
: While the recent Thanksgiving weekend was relatively free of travel delays, there is no guarantee that luck will continue through the season. If at all possible, make your reservations on an early morning flight that is non-stop to your destination. This will make it more likely that the aircraft spent the night at your departing airport, which will reduce the likelihood of delays. A single, major airport with delays can cause a ripple effect throughout the whole airline system, which means that later flights run the risk of a greater chance of delays. While it's impossible to control the weather, making these two moves is your best defense to get to your destination on time without delay.
Get a first class seat for cheap
: Most people aren't aware of special airline fares that don't automatically come up when you search for flights online called Y-Up and Q-Up fare tickets. These special codes can help you get you a first class seat for close to economy air prices. While these will not save you money if you are prepared and have made your reservations in advance from low-cost carriers, they can get you a much better seat for nearly the same price if you are buying a ticket with little advance notice. You can search for these hidden fares in this special
Y-up search engine.
Upgrade your coach seat
: More and more airlines are splitting economy class into two areas, with one section having
roomier seating toward the back of the plane. These seats cost a bit more, usually $15 to $100 extra. The seats aren't as nice as business class, but they will give you a bit of extra room for a small amount of money, which can make a huge difference on the quality of the flight for you.
Know which seat you want
: If you aren't upgrading your seat or getting a Y-Up ticket, that doesn't mean you still can't get the best value for your economy class ticket. All seats in economy class are not created equal and getting the correct one can be the difference between a comfortable flight and one that's cramped. There is no need to wait until you check in to determine the seat you want. You can research the best seats before you book your ticket at
Seat Guru, which will show plane seat layouts for all types of aircraft, including which seats provide the most comfort and which ones should be avoided.
Least expensive days to fly
: During normal travel times, Wednesday is
the cheapest day of the week to fly, but the winter holiday means that this rule doesn't necessarily apply. If you want to get a cheap seat,
be willing to fly on Christmas Eve or Christmas day, where you really will avoid the crowds. The risk, of course, is that if there are any travel delays, you won't be able to get to your destination in time.
Before You Travel
Check-in and confirm from home
: The airports will be especially busy during the holiday break, so taking care of as much business as you can at home can go a long way to reducing frustration and time spent in lines. Many airlines will now allow you to confirm your seat and print your boarding pass at home from your personal computer. If you aren't checking in any baggage, this can allow you to avoid ticket counter lines and go directly to security lines.
Leave your car at home
: Finding parking over the winter holiday can be difficult and expensive. You are better off taking a limo, airport shuttle service or taxi, or calling a friend to get you to the airport. Another way to avoid the hassle of a trip to the airport, especially if you live several hours away and have an early morning flight as suggested, is to get a hotel room for the night near the airport. More and more hotels will let you leave your car in their parking lot for up to two weeks if you stay with them, meaning that it doesn't cost any more to stay overnight than it would cost to park your car at the airport. You can find what hotels offer this service near your departing airport at
Don't wrap the gifts
: With heightened airport security, you most likely will have to tear wrapped boxes open if there is any question of what is inside. Either leave gifts unwrapped and do the wrapping once you arrive at your destination, or consider sending them by mail to avoid having to drag along extra weight through an already overcrowded airport.
If You Are Delayed
Contract of Carriage
: Rule 240 was a government-backed rule where airlines had to provide you with the next available flight if yours was delayed. The rule, however, was replaced in the late 1970s when airline deregulation took place. While some airlines
still refer to the old rule 240 when talking about their delayed flight policy, each airline now makes its own flight delay rules called Contract of Carriage. You want to have a
copy of these Contract of Carriage rules for the airline you're flying on. Even if your airline says they will get you a flight at their discretion, having the rules and politely asking to be rebooked on the next possible flight will get you a lot further toward your goal of getting to your destination than yelling at the ticket agent.
Traveling during the holiday season doesn't have to empty your wallet or increase your stress. Taking a bit of time to take precautions can go a long way to making your holiday flight a lot more enjoyable.
Jeffrey Strain has been a freelance personal finance writer for the past 10 years helping people save money and get their finances in order. He currently owns and runs SavingAdvice.com.