Seven Tips For Stress-Free Holiday Travel

Filed Under: Advice, Travel

This is the busiest travel week of the year in the United States, and the weather forecast isn’t looking particularly helpful. For that matter, many airlines reported that yesterday was their busiest travel day ever.

Given that so many people are going to be traveling, especially folks who might not travel as often, I thought it’d be helpful to share my top tips for those traveling this week.

Track your flight

Nowadays there are plenty of apps and tools that will help you monitor your flight, even before you arrive at the airport.

The simplest? Just type the airline code and flight number in to Google. If you’re flying on Delta flight 712, for example, enter “DL712” and you should see the flight status.


Beyond that, many airline websites will also show you the status of your inbound aircraft. This can always change, but if the departures board says your flight is “on time” while the inbound aircraft is still en route from Dallas, there’s no reason to queue up for boarding.


Pack light

There are two factors at work here. One, you don’t want to check a bag if you can avoid it. Even with sophisticated systems, checked bags are often lost or even just delayed. If you can keep to a carry-on, you have more options in case of schedule disruptions.

Beyond that, don’t overpack your carry-on! While most frequent travelers (myself included) are accustomed to taking “generously” sized suitcases onboard, airlines and airport staff seem to be enforcing bag sizes this week. I was at JFK yesterday and even at check-in the agents were asking to see and measure carry-ons.

You probably don’t need a third of the stuff you’re planning on bringing anyway, in my experience.

Allow extra time

When I lived in Seattle I’d generally leave for the airport about 90 minutes before my flight, if that. This is not a good idea during the crush of holiday travel.

Even if security is running smoothly, you’ll want to plan extra time for traffic, parking, check-in, etc. Particularly given that much of the country is slated to have bad weather this week, which will clog up roadways.

Plan for security

Clearing security this time of year is always exciting. You have the families trying to keep all their stuff together, the person who somehow in 2014 doesn’t know they can’t bring their full-size toothpaste, and the business travelers who are frustrated that no one else knows what is going on.

It’s also worth noting that through the TSA managed-inclusion program, you might have access to “Pre-Check” even if you’re not a frequent traveler. If so, you’ll have a special line, and you don’t need to remove your shoes or take anything out of your bag.

Pay attention to the signage, and follow the instructions — life will be better for everyone.

Be prepared for cancellations

Delays are going to happen this week, and cancellations are more than likely.

If something changes with your flight, you can do more than just stand in the queue to speak with the gate agent. While you’re waiting, call the airline customer service line and ask about options. They can often rebook you over the phone, or can at least have everything noted in the record so the gate agent can reissue your ticket.

Beyond that, if you have access to an airline lounge, the agents there are generally more helpful. You also have shorter lines, which can help with getting rebooked more quickly.

Invest in lounge access

On that note, daily and monthly lounge passes can be an exceptionally good value during the holidays.

American Airlines allows children to enter with their parents on even one-day Admirals Club passes, while the monthly pass allows two guests or immediately family as well, for example. Speaking of which, the Admirals Club 30 day pass is a heck of a deal at just $99. That’s less than the cost of two one-day passes.

Additionally, you may already have access to a lounge through your credit card, so it’s worth checking the benefits there.

Children’s play area at the LAS Centurion Lounge

Club lounges can be a refuge from a busy and hectic airport, so even paying for access can be well worth it this time of year.

Spread some cheer

Over 100 million Americans are going to be traveling this week. Everyone has somewhere they need to be, and nearly everyone is going to be stressed about it.

This is a difficult time of year to travel, so try to be extra nice. Bringing along chocolate for the crew and gate agents can’t hurt, and even a friendly smile can go a long way.


What are your top tips for busy travel days?

  1. Shame Ben, as a gay man, decided to put profit over being ethical, or socially responsible and appearing on fiercely anti-gay Fox News. Seems to me incredibly hypocritical and flies in the face of all those who believe in equality and non-discrimination. These are the holiday tips you were talking about, I see.

    You should be shunning Fox News, not legitimizing or, worse, profiting from them. I’m all for bloggers growing their audience, but do it in a morally sound and principled manner.

  2. Even following all this advice, I still found myself at the mercy of inane airline processes yesterday and wonder if you have any better strategy.

    I had an evening flight, and as the day went on I watched earlier flights get delayed from SFO. I proactively called VX several times to get on one of the earlier flights. Despite being in first class, phone agents couldn’t or wouldn’t accomodate me.

    1st agent declined because my flight wasn’t actually delayed yet (even though anyone with common sense could see a domino effect developing). Once it was delayed, 2nd agent wanted to charge me a fare difference because it was not more than 4 hours late. 3rd agent said I had to go to the airport to get any relief. Ultimately, I was able to persuade the check in agent to help me, after explaining all the above.

    What would you do differently? Clearly, not everyone has loads of free time to go to the airport 5 hours early and get in-person customer service, nor should they have to.

  3. My tip is avoid travel days like these if at all possible – visit relatives some other time or leave/return at slightly off peak times. The exception was in my younger days I would sometimes deliberately plan to travel on the busiest days, volunteer to be bumped (before they asked for volunteers) and quite often end up with a free future flight.

  4. what Truth said. i fly the morning of thanksgiving and xmas and it’s always stress-free. no lines at security, no packed planes and the crews are generally in a pretty good mood. also less chance of wx-related delays or cancellations in the morning.

  5. There is nothing unethical about being on national television.

    The Fox News appearance enhances Fox’s efforts toward inclusiveness and respect towards gays and lesbians.

  6. @James: I have watched Fox News for years and even visited their set once. I never had the impression that they, as a network, are anti-gay. But for argument’s sake let’s say that you are correct. Engagement by Ben and others is a good approach to knocking down prejudices that Fox may hold. If anyone should be ashamed, it should be Fox for exposing their viewers to a well-spoken expert who also happens to be gay.

  7. I know, but WHICH third of what I packed will I not need? THAT’S the problem–I can’t figure that out until after I arrive. signed–cannot possibly live out of a carry-on.

  8. As Stannis demonstrated above, if you don’t get the answer you want the first time, try someone else. Yesterday, my plane was 65 minutes late into SEA. Pier D customer service desk for AS was swamped working re-bookings and while waiting in line I called the MVP Gold desk. Neither the counter agent or the phone agent could change my seat from the system rebooking me in 10B on the next completely fully plane, dispute the fact that I had a F ticket on the plane I missed. I went around the corner to the completely empty Pier C customer service desk and the nice lady there said “tell me you have your original boarding pass for the flight you missed”. She work some magic and booked me in an emergency window seat on a plane that left just 1.5 hours later and #1 wait listed me in F which cleared at the gate. As Lucky has shown so many times, it pays to be persistent.

  9. If you can’t live out of a carryon, I think you “may” have chosen the wrong hobby “of sorts”.

  10. True, it’s very important to we plan everything before travel. Like how much traveling budget, from which way you want to go, place of traveling, etc. These kind of planning are always helping to reduce traveling stress.

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