Setting foot in an airport during the holiday season is a lesson in patience. But the following tips may make the trip to Grandma’s house a little less stressful—maybe even cheaper.
Booking travel and getting to the airport . . .
• If possible, fly direct. Obviously, the less stops the plane has to make, the less chance you’ll experience a delay. Finding a direct flight may be challenging unless you are flying from one major city to another, such as New York to Los Angeles, but it’s not entirely impossible. Case in point: Jet Blue flies direct from New York City to Sacramento, Calif.
• Take the first flight out. Aside from weather-related issues, early morning flights usually experience fewer delays, and while the planes themselves are still likely to be crowded—especially during peak holiday travel—the airport itself will be slightly less hectic than during the day. Another bonus: Traveling to the airport should be a lot easier.
• Check your connecting cities. When I travel between the east and west coasts, I look to see what cities my flight is connecting through and, if possible, I try to steer clear of ones known for their severe weather, especially in the winter. That means, whenever possible, I am opting for Dallas over Chicago. (No offense, Chicago.)
• Take the airport less traveled. It might make sense to travel a little ways to get to a smaller airport rather than fly out of the closer but busier one. My cousins on Long Island try to fly in and out of MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, NY, 50 miles outside of New York City, rather than the more congested JFK and LaGuardia airports in Queens. Of course, sometimes smaller airports offer fewer airlines; MacArthur, for example, offers two. But Southwest is one of them, and with direct flights to Baltimore-Washington and Orlando airports, among others, and connecting service to many major cities, it is a competitive option when planning your travel.
• Plot out the cheapest route to the airport. Parking at airports adds up but some airports offer a deal where if you stay overnight at the airport hotel you park for free. Your first thought may be, “I’m not doing that!” But staying at the airport pre-trip guarantees that you will get there on time, and if you are staying post trip, it may cut down on travel fatigue. If staying at the airport is not a viable option, see if public transportation is. You can take the subway and the Long Island Railroad to JFK, the “L” train to Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports, BART to both San Francisco and Oakland airports, Link light rail to Seattle’s Sea-Tac Airport and MARTA to Atlanta’s uber-busy Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
• Check the app. Apps such as FlightAware keep you on top of flight statuses, departures, arrivals and more.
Consider this before you pack . . .
• Think twice about packing gifts. While yo\u might be OK packing wrapped gifts into your checked luggage, if your gift is at all suspicious, just know you might find it unwrapped once you get to your destination. Also be mindful of extra baggage fees should the gifts add weight to your suitcase. Which option is cheaper? A hefty overweight baggage fee or going to the post office to mail your gifts? As someone who once packed three boxes of dense Aunt Jemima pancake mix into her suitcase for her friends living in Scotland, I can tell you, that overweight baggage fee is a stiff little bugger.
And if you are placing the gift into your carry-on (make sure it’s unwrapped), be aware of what’s prohibited and what’s not. Something as innocuous as your famous homemade strawberry jam or the snow globe you bought at Hallmark might be banned.
And one final, really cheap tip to fight back against high concession stand prices . . .
• Bring empty water bottles and fill’er up at the water fountains. OK, this is the ultimate “cheap man’s solution” to staying hydrated while flying, and I have to admit, even I have been known to plop down the $5 for the water at the concession rather than go to the trouble of doing this. But if you have some time and some patience, it’s a way cheaper option to staying hydrated while in flight. Oh, and just so you know, it is recommended that you drink 8 oz. of water for every hour you are in the air. And sorry, coffee, cola and alcoholic beverages don’t count!
For more money-saving advice, see our Travel section.