It’s that getting to be that time again – time to fill up the highways, airports, and railways with people on their way to visit relatives for the holidays. I took off last week via car to the east coast and made it with no problems, right before the blizzard hit. Good thing I drive fast! For those of you just starting to think about what you are going to do this year (Maybe a little late?), there are a few ways to both save money and save yourself some headaches in the process.
Of course, the first place to start looking for tickets for any travel is the internet. But there are probably hundreds if not thousands of sites to search for tickets on! I have narrowed down the ones I have used to the following, which I have had the most luck with in terms of saving some cash/getting the dates I wanted:
photo credit: lunchtimemama
When you are search for tickets, be sure to keep in mind that you need not fly out of the closest or biggest airport – you might find a better bargain driving an extra 30 minutes to a different airport. I know that sometimes when I flew, I ended up flying into other airports a little further from home because it is cheaper. So be sure to check out any and all surrounding airports – my family back east has the luxury of checking out not only Logan in Boston, but also Manchester, NH and Providence, RI.. You never know where the cheapest flight will be. And try to have some flexibility in your dates – leaving on Fridays or Sundays around the holidays are usually the most expensive. Also, look out for those pesky airline fees – they can really add up.
Once you have your tickets, you are going to want to pack lightly. Many airlines are now charging not only for heavy bags, but for any bags! It used to be that you could bring a few bags with you as long as you didn’t go over the weight limit, but not anymore – the following airlines are charging for each bag you bring:
American Airlines – $20 for your first bag, $30 for your second bag
Northwest Airlines – $20 for your first bag, $30 for your second bag
United Airlines – $15 for your first bag, $50 for your second bag
Continental Airlines – $20 for your first bag, $30 for your second bag
Southwest Airlines – Bags fly free
And those prices are for bags that weigh under 50 pounds…if you go over that weight limit, you will be paying anywhere from $25 all the way up to $125 – so be sure to pack lightly!
OK, so you are all packed and ready to go, right? Not so fast – the fun part has only just begun! Now you get to deal with angry airline workers, hundreds of thousands of other travelers, flight delays, long lines, misplaced baggage… I need not go on, you know the drill. But there are a few things you can do once you are ready for your trip to help make the travel process a little less painless.
– First of all, make sure you check in at home for your flight before you go to the airport. Go online to the airline’s site that you are flying, check in, and print out your boarding passes. You are going to be standing in lines all day, so printing these out ahead of time will spare you from doing it at the airport.
– Before you head for the airport, call the airlines automated flight status line to make sure you are still leaving today. Nothing like getting to the airport to discover your flight was delayed/canceled and you aren’t leaving until tomorrow now!
– Show up early. I have been in lines over the holidays for HOURS, and the last thing you want to do is miss your flight. Some have been in lines for DAYS this season already!
– Once at the airport, check in at the curb if you can. Sure, the lines might be long but they are probably longer inside. Also, doing so might prevent you from having to go stand in another line to have your luggage scanned. I know at Los Angeles I always had to stand in that line as well no matter what, but not all airports require it.
– Keep the carry-on personal possessions to a minimum. The more crap you carry through checkpoints, the more problems you are going to have. Wear slip-on shoes, avoid bringing liquids and personal care products, and be nice to the TSA agents – they can and will make your life miserable if you aren’t!
Air travel during the holidays can be a real bear if the weather doesn’t cooperate and/or you didn’t plan in advance. If you are traveling to somewhere pretty nearby that you could drive to in less than a day, consider doing that instead. Not only will it be cheaper, but you won’t have to deal with all the passengers in a hurry to get home! I hate the airport during the holidays, so I would rather drive any distance than fly during them. Or, you can look into doing what I did last year – take the train. Sure, it costs a little more than flying does, but it is quite an adventure – you get our own bedroom, you get three meals a day included, and you get to escape into the landscape and books for a few days. I view it as part of my vacation, not just the means to get where I am going. You get to meet interesting people and see parts of the country that you never see while flying at 35,000 feet – it’s quite a nice time.
Better late than never! I meant to run this article last week, but I totally forgot about it – so here it is. The original version of this article ran a year ago, but I wanted to republish it with changes/additions for the holiday season in 2009. Hope it comes in a little handy!