The holiday travel season is just around the bend, meaning if you’re planning to fly the friendly skies this Thanksgiving or Chrismukkah, you’ve either already bought your tickets or you’re about to. But instead of following the time-honoured holiday tradition of spending an arm and a leg on pricey tickets or frantically running through the airline terminal to catch your flight this year, follow these simple steps to ensure your trip is as inexpensive and relaxing as it is streamlined.
Find the Best and/or Cheapest Tickets
Cheap tickets are the holy grail of travel, and there are millions of methods for finding them. If you’ve yet to buy your tickets, we’ve got a few pointers for making that purchase.
When it comes to shopping for a ticket, you’ve got tons of choices. Everyone and their reindeer want to help you find tickets (hell, even Google wants to get you to some cheap tickets), but your best and easiest bets are to either go directly to your airline of choice’s web site or start looking for deals online using one of many travel search aggregators. Our favourite search aggregators are:
- Kayak: Searches across other travel aggregators as well as directly from airlines for the best deal available. We’ve been big fans of Kayak’s results for quite a while.
- Farecast: Predicts the rise and fall of ticket prices with the intention of letting you know whether or not now is the right time to buy.
If you have a specific airline you want to fly—say, for example, you generally travel in and out of a hub—you can also find great deals going directly to the source. Head to your airline of choice’s homepage and do a search there, or sign up to receive promotions and fare watches from the airline. This method won’t always give you the best results—and it’s not terribly efficient if you don’t know what airline you want to travel—but it can be a great way to find deals. Of course everyone has their favourite methods, so check out how your fellow readers score cheap tickets for more.
Before you buy, here are a few other money-saving considerations to keep in mind:
- Everyone wants to be with their families during the holidays, but if your family is flexible and you can travel on the actual holiday day (e.g., Thanksgiving day, Christmas day, or New Year’s day), you can get incredible deals.
- MileMaven: This web site lists frequent flyer promotions that could secure you a few bonus miles this trip.
- You can sometimes find especially good deals between midnight and 1 a.m. (There’s a bit of controversy over the veracity of this method, so your mileage may vary.)
Get the Best Seat on Your Flight
If you’ve started your search early enough, you can keep your comfort and other “luxury” factors in mind. For example:
- You can find the best seats on the plane by factoring in your view of the in-flight movie screen, proximity to restrooms, and availability of power outlets with web site SeatGuru.
- It’s not as likely to work over the busy holiday travel season, but with a little booking ingenuity and luck you may be able to secure an empty seat next to you.
- Look for tickets at a smaller nearby airport if possible—especially if you’re travelling with kids —to make your flight more relaxing and pleasant. While this doesn’t exactly apply to your seat on the plane, it can lower your stress level at the airport, making your seat seem that much better once you’re in it.
Prepare Before Travel Day
You’ve booked your flight and your travel day is quickly approaching. From making sure you’re correctly following packing guidelines to reserving a good parking spot, you’ve still got a few things to check off your list before the big day is here.
Packing smart and packing early ensures you’ll have everything you need during your trip and you won’t have to waste any time or money buying a new toothbrush when you land.
- Before you even start packing, be sure to find out what you can and can’t carry on your flight with the TSA’s list of prohibited and permitted items. These are still revised from time to time, so don’t assume that the restrictions haven’t changed since last time you flew.
- Make sure you’ve got everything you need by consulting the Universal Packing List, a simple web application that helps you build a checklist of things you won’t want to leave behind.
- Unless you want to spend their holiday vacation ironing, try packing your suitcase using the bundled wrapping method.
- If you’re looking to pack for any occasion but still want to keep it light, try travelling the world packing no more than 10 pounds or travel with just one carry-on.
Now that you’re all packed, you’ve just got a few more loose ends to take care of before travel day:
- Unless you’re getting dropped off at the airport (either by a friend or shuttle), make reservations with an airport parking lot. If you don’t have a favorite, try out web site AirportParkingReservations for a customer-rated list of lots near your airport.
- If you are planning to get dropped off at the airport, be sure you’ve made the necessary arrangements—either talk to (and continually remind) the friend who’s dropping you off or make reservations with the shuttle service.
- Put your airline on speed dial or add it as a new contact so you’re first to rebook if you flight gets canceled. On a tight travel day, this preparation can mean the difference between rebooking a new flight 45 minutes later versus tomorrow.
- Also, if you’re planning to take Spot or Tabby along on your trip, be sure you know how to fly safely with a pet.
Finally, if your flight is leaving early the next day, go to your airline’s web site to check in and print your boarding passes. Having already checked in and holding your boarding pass before you even get to the airport saves tonnes of time, especially if you’re not checking any luggage.
Tune in next week for the Power Traveler’s Checklist, Part Two: Travel Time. I’m sure you’ve got tonnes of pre-flight items on your checklist, so please share them in the comments.
Adam Pash is a senior editor for Lifehacker who never travels unprepared. His special feature Hack Attack appears every Wednesday on Lifehacker AU.