Thanksgiving (and the following weekend) is considered to be the busiest travel time of the year. That’s how one of America’s favorite times of year is preceded by one of our least favorite — the annual rite of booking holiday travel.
When it comes to holiday travel planning, it’s never too early to start. Let these Thanksgiving air travel tips help to ensure that this year you’ll travel practically stress-free and arrive at your holiday celebration calm, collected and on time.
Tips for Thanksgiving air travel
DON’T: Wait. Book your plane tickets ASAP. Airlines start hiking fares up just after Halloween, and with fewer flights and more people wanting to fly, planes are already crowded. So start your searches now, and if you see a good deal, book it. Once the peak holiday travel season hits, it is unlikely fares on popular routes will see much discounting.
DO: Opt for an early-morning flight. This will help avoid airport crowds, and the earliest flights are statistically less likely to be delayed.
DO: Book a nonstop flight. Fewer stops means less time spent navigating crowded airport terminals and waiting in line to board a plane.
DO: Watch the weather. Book a direct flight and route through hubs less likely to be affected by winter storms, such as Charlotte, Houston, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles or San Francisco.
DO: Consider flying into an alternate airport that can offer cheaper fares. For example, consider Oakland in place of San Francisco, Ft Lauderdale in place of Miami, or Baltimore in place of Washington DC, Midway vs O’Hare, Burbank vs LAX, Westchester vs JFK.
DON’T: Limit yourself. Moving your departure by one or two days can save you money. Avoid traveling on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after, as these are, by far, the most expensive days. To save, either extend your trip, flying out early in the week and returning the week after Thanksgiving, or shorten it, flying out early on Thanksgiving Day and returning the Saturday after the holiday. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays are often less expensive days to fly. The days immediately before and after Thanksgiving and Christmas are some of the busiest travel days of the year.
DO: If it somehow makes sense, consider traveling on Thanksgiving Day itself. Kayak says that people departing and returning on Thanksgiving Day found fares as low as 30% below the average.
DON’T: Rent a car at the airport. If you’re renting a car, check the rates at an off-airport or smaller car rental agency. Agencies that operate off of airport property aren’t subject to the same taxes and fees, while smaller agencies overall tend to be more flexible in their pricing and often offer significant discounts to compete with larger agencies.
DO: Think about staying somewhere outside of the urban center for extra perks and cost savings. Suburban hotel locations may be more likely to offer amenities like continental breakfast and wireless Internet access, less expensive parking and overall lower rates.
DO: Download some travel apps. When booking hotels, your smartphone can be the best place to find a great deal. Many hotels offer increasingly bigger discounts to fill their empty rooms the closer you get to your stay. And with lots of empty rooms over Thanksgiving because travelers are staying with family, you can typically score the best savings by booking on the day of your arrival.
DO: Consider signing up for a program like CLEAR or the TSA Pre-Check Program to help you speed through security and to cut down on potential holiday stress.
DO: Where you can, use public transportation to the airport. If you’re planning to drive to the airport, it is a good idea to call your local airport and check parking availability.
DO: Travel light. As you close in on your travel dates, those who are flying should remember that packing light is more important than ever due to both security issues and exorbitant baggage fees.
DON’T: Bring holiday foods in your carry-on. Unless you have a travel-size container of cranberry sauce — that is, 3.4 ounces or less — you’re not going to be able to get it through airport security. (Same goes for gravy, jams and jellies, sauces, soups, wines, beer, dips and spreads.) Gift baskets with food items over carry-on size won’t get through, either, but some good news: can bring pies and cakes through the security checkpoint, although they are subject to additional screening.
DON’T: Check bags. If you can avoid checking baggage, it will save you time at the airport and also ensure that you have everything you need in case of an emergency. It’s not uncommon during the holiday season for flights to be significantly delayed or even canceled. Having the basics with you, including a change of clothes, sample-sized toiletries and your medications, can help make delays a lot more bearable.
DO: Schedule extra time for checking luggage or bulky items, such as car seats and skis/snowboards. Confusion about carry-on rules regarding liquids and gels mean airlines and passengers are struggling with more checked baggage during an already busy travel time.