Celebrating the winter holidays with family and friends is worth waiting the entire year for. While many Americans continue to get vaccinated for Covid-19, the holiday rush for Thanksgiving and Christmas can still be a doozy. Thankfully, you can avoid stress during holiday travel if you plan right.
If you are going to travel for the next few months, make sure you check out our 9-step guide on traveling safely during the pandemic. Most importantly, don’t forget all the rules for saving money and traveling conveniently by knowing the best ways to plan holiday travel with our guide, as well as our video, below.
The good news: While the upcoming holiday season will likely be busier than last year, less people will travel over Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2021 versus pre-pandemic. That’s something to cheer about if you plan on hitting the road or flying.
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7 Tips That Help You Avoid Stress During Holiday Travel
- Book your flight YESTERDAY.
Everyone knows that booking your flight early will yield cheaper fares, more seat availability and better routes, yet so many people wait until the last minute.
Fortunately, most US airlines offer great flight refund (in terms of airline credit) programs now due to Covid-19, and they have waived cancellation fees, so you can book a flight now and still feel good about any future changes to your itinerary without fees.
Traditionally, last-minute holiday travel deals are unlikely. Domestic airlines know their seats will sell out so they offer little deals, and key travel dates (like the day before Christmas) will be a lot more expensive the longer you wait. Buy your tickets now to avoid any regret for not booking earlier!
2. Avoid peak days.
Even if you manage to find a great deal traveling on a peak day (like December 23 or December 31), you’ll be subject to more crowded airports, more traffic, increased Uber rates and plenty of delays.
If you have nerves of steel, the scenario may not impact you, but you need to consider any potential snags along the way like a random snowstorm that could cancel thousands of flights, an accident on the highway that could deter your path or even the possibility of being bumped on an overbooked flight.
On peak days, seat availability is minimal, so the chances of you getting on another flight are slim and, if you’re lucky enough, it could cost you hundreds of dollars.
Do you really want to be stuck at an airport for hours in the worst-case scenario? If you have time to spare an extra day or two for the holidays, go ahead and do it. This is one of the best ways to plan holiday travel.
3. Use your airmiles.
There’s no sense in hoarding your miles. Frequent-flier miles have significantly lost value over the years, and it’s harder to use them. Airlines are offering fewer award seat availability, especially now during Covid-19, earning miles is a lot harder (airlines are offering rewards based on dollar spent rather than miles flown), and the only travelers truly benefiting are loyal business travelers.
Flights over the holidays are already expensive, so why not cash in?
If you do find cheap airfare, you can use your miles to upgrade to first class. The perks are worth it during vacation time (dedicated fast lane at the airport, free checked bag, first to board, etc), which helps holiday travel become less of a hassle.
- Arrive super early.
As travelers, we get in the habit of arriving at the airport just in time for our flights. Make an exception over the holidays and allow at least two hours for domestic travel. Sure, lines at airport security may be a lot shorter these days, but you still don’t know what kind of snags you run into. Consider this past Thanksgiving, where TSA saw a record number of passengers since March 2020. Lines were longer than normal, and it could happen again for Christmas.
If you’re flying, get to the airport early, download your favorite TV show to binge and saddle up at an airport bar.
Also, with so many people doing road trips now, highway traffic can get congested over the holidays. It’s best to plan to leave early. Definitely leave early. It’s one of the best ways to plan holiday travel.
- Book a vacation rental.
Survey after survey proves that most vacationers would rather stay in a hotel than with their family over the holidays (it’s often too stressful!), and many try to book hotels that are either A) sold out or B) way too expensive over the holidays.
A vacation rental is the perfect solution, and you can even have your family and friends along for the stay. Not only does a vacation rental ensure social distancing and no interaction with other hotel guests, they are equipped with luxe amenities (with full kitchens so you can still cook that turkey), have multiple rooms, are easy to get to and are in exciting tropical or mountain destinations that are perfect for spending the holidays in. They’re also bang for your buck when you consider expensive, crowded hotels with little privacy.
Vacations generally bring the family together, and it sure beats staying in your old childhood room in some suburb.
- Turn on private browsing on your computer.
Ever wonder why airfare never seems to go down? Cookies on every website you use to hunt travel bargains generally store your searches, knowing what flights and hotels you’re looking at.
The prices and rates will rise simply because you’ve searched for those flights again and again. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the (Internet) book, and you can avoid this by turning on private browsing and clearing your cache.
- Mail your gifts.
Rather than tirelessly searching websites to find what TSA will and will not accept over the holidays and the risk of having wrapped Christmas gifts opened, mail your gifts in advance. It’s more reliable.
Mailing your gifts will bring peace of mind, especially when you can track your presents via FedEx, Amazon or UPS. Plus, that’s less for you to lug at the airport, and you can avoid baggage fees.
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