Your stress-free guide to holiday travel
Pack your patience.
A record 107.3 million Americans traveled 50 miles or more for the holidays last year, according to AAA. And while the automotive club hasn’t released its estimates for Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s travel yet, considering 2017 was sixth consecutive record high for the holiday season, and more than 54 million hit the nation’s roads, skies, rails and waterways for Thanksgiving last month, many December travelers are stressing about about congested roads, airport delays and long lines putting the brakes on their holiday joy.
“The only thing on my mind this holiday season is, by far, not family, nor gifts, or even college finals — but traveling!” Bryan M. Waring, 22, told Moneyish. He’ll be flying from Nashville back home to Hartford, Conn. “The winter season just freaks me out — especially with all the horror stories of people having to stay overnight for a delayed or cancelled flight. It is this time of the year where I think, ‘Will my flight be impacted by snow? Can I get/afford another flight? Will I miss family and college plans if a delay happens? Where can I stay, sleep, and eat if there is a snowstorm?’”
AAA spokeswoman Julie Hall warns that with Christmas on a Tuesday this year, the few days before — which fall on a weekend — will likely see the busiest traffic. And if gas prices continue to drop (the national average price for standard grade gasoline hit $2.46 a gallon on Monday, two cents before the year-ago price, and 31 cents cheaper than a month ago thanks to weaker oil markets) then even more motorists will be include to hit the road.
“Traveling on the holiday itself — Christmas Eve and Christmas Day — usually results in less traffic,” said Hall. She steers drivers toward giving their cars a quick maintenance check before hitting the road, since AAA expects to rescue 960,000 motorists roadside; top issues are dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires. Downloading the AAA app can also help you map your route, book hotels and compare gas prices along the way.
Expect the roads to be clogged with holiday traffic all week. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Those flying should also allow for extra time on the road to reach the airport, and to arrive at least three hours before their flight to give themselves plenty of time to check their bags and get through security. Again, setting yourself up for success ahead of time is the best way to keep airport stress from taking off. Download the app to your airline, and enable push notifications so that you’re aware of any changes in your flight plan or boarding gate in real time. And skip airline counters wherever you can; check into your flight and print out boarding passes at home, or have boarding passes sent to your phone, so you can walk right up to security. Consider only packing a carry-on bag, or check your baggage curbside to avoid generally longer line inside.
Or splurge $100 for an airport VIP concierge like Blacklane Pass to whisk you from curb to seat, said George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.con. “I tried this twice recently,” he said. “Your airport Sherpa literally escorts you and your bag to the head of the check-in line, the head of TSA lines and the head of boarding lines like you’re Angelina Jolie.” The hefty price tag covers more than 500 airports, and an extra $50 grants VIP lounge access with free alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, wifi, TV and showers to freshen up — which can be sanity savers if you get stranded at the airport for hours or overnight. You can also book just the lounge services for $50 as short as an hour in advance, but Blacklane Pass recommends booking the full Pass services 48 hours in advance, although it can often confirm services with 24 hours of lead time. While it has confirmed Pass services with as little as two hours of lead time, that is going to depend on the airport.
Arrive at the airport three hours before your flight, in case of lines like this. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
The LoungeBuddy app also offers instant lounge access at hundreds of airports for starting at $25. And many airlines let you buy day-long passes to their lounges for around $50, and some travel credit cards include free or discounted access to airport lounges.
You can also try complaining (politely) to the airline over Twitter, as consumers have previously told Moneyish that they have found great success communicating with companies on the social media platform. The key is to be polite and specific; so tweet directly at Delta or American with your flight number, departing airport and end destination, explaining that it’s been canceled or delayed for hours, and you’re looking for help. A 2014 Airfarewatchdog poll found 10% of people said tweeting at an airline got better results than other communication methods.
If you know you’re going to be waiting for a few hours, then hop the airport shuttle and explore. Other airline terminals may have better restaurant, shopping or entertainment options than the one you’ve been sitting in for the past hour or two, and a change of scenery may be just what you need to relax. Or pamper yourself with an in-airport spa service; XpresSpa, which offers massages, facials, mani-pedis and more at 23 airports globally;a full-clothed table massages start at $80 for 30 minutes. It also offers 30-minute showers for 40 bucks. Or Airportgyms.com lists airport fitness centers across the U.S. and Canada, so you can work out your frustration.
You can also turn waiting in line into some me-time. Pack a book, or download audio books, podcasts and videos to stay entertained while you’re winding through lines; rather than getting aggravated, you can finally check out that podcast, book or series that you haven’t had time for.
Riding the rails? Amtrak’s Jason Abrams also suggests arriving 45 minutes to an hour before departure to minimize stress. Check holiday train schedules and status before arriving at the station on Amtrak.com, Track Your Train (on Amtrak.com), or using the Amtrak mobile app, and have your travel documents and a valid photo ID on hand.
“Comfort kits are also available on every train (for free) — all you have to do is ask a conductor,” he added, which includes a blanket, inflatable pillow, eye mask and noise-reducing ear plugs to ease your trip. And the bigger stations, like New York’s Penn Station, provide free Red Cap service to handle your baggage, preboard a large group and help passengers with disabilities get on the train earlier. Just remember to tip your concierge for their trouble.
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