Holiday Travel: Airport Survival Guide

holiday-travel-airport-survival-guideCan you believe the holidays are just around the corner? I hope you’ll be visiting your family or better yet, they’ll be visiting you so you can avoid the packed airports filled with once-a-year travelers who slow things down. If you are taking to the skies, these tips will help you have a much smoother, faster and less expensive travel experience. If your loved ones are coming to see you, then do them a favor and send this story to them!

1. Ship your bags and presents
One of the big drags of traveling is checking a bag. First of all, unless you fly Southwest Airlines, have elite status or have one of your airlines’ co-branded credit cards, you will have to pay at least $25 for your first bag and $35 for your second. Since I fly so much, I get free checked luggage but I still don’t take advantage of it because when you check a bag, you have to show up to the airport extra early and you have to stick around for what seems an eternity for your bag to come out. And that’s if it actually does come out! Instead, travel with just carry-on and if you really need to take more and you’re traveling domestically, then ship your bags/gifts to your destination a week in advance using FedEx, UPS or the USPS Ground.

2. Reconfirm your flight
If you bought your ticket far in advance, there’s a good chance your flight times or routings have changed. The airlines are required to notify you but just in case you overlooked a message, always double-check. It’s also a great idea to make sure your passport (if traveling internationally) is valid.. Some countries won’t let you in unless your passport has more than six months before its expiration date.

3. Check-in for your flight in advance
If you aren’t checking bags, then you will really want to print your boarding pass in advance or download it from the airline app. That way you can cruise right to the security lane without dealing with any kiosks or long check-in lines. Another reason to check-in in advance is that if you’re one of the last to check-in and you don’t have elite status and the plane is oversold, there’s a good chance the airline will involuntarily bump you. That might not be a bad thing if you’re not in a hurry because you will be entitled to compensation (up to $1,300) but if you’re pressed for time, then it could severely put a damper on your trip.

holiday-travel-airport-survival-guide-24. Get Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
If you want to avoid the long security lines, get TSA PreCheck ($85 for five years). Better yet if you travel internationally at all, and especially if you do it frequently, get Global Entry ($100 for five years). The application and approval process are quite lengthy but well worth it. It will be the best money you’ve ever spent as it allows you to breeze past the typically long customs and immigration lines. But first, you must be approved and have an in-person appointment, which could take a couple of months. Best of all, Global Entry automatically enrolls you into TSA PreCheck.

Good to Know: If you don’t have TSA PreCheck, then be sure to ask if there’s more than one security checkpoint. Many airports do have more than one option and you will be surprised how much time you can save.

5. Be security-ready
One reason security lines are so long is because infrequent travelers don’t know the drill. Make sure you learn the 3-1-1 liquids rule and pack accordingly. Also, be sure to pull out your laptop from its case, as well as coins, keys and phones – or better yet, put these smaller items in your jacket pocket and have your ID ready to go. Before I had TSA PreCheck, I always put my shoes on the conveyor belt first, followed by my bag with all my electronic gadgets, so while my bag is being screened, I can put my shoes back on. To keep things moving quickly, it’s best to wear slip-ons and wear socks.

Good to Know: This is very important: Be sure to push and wait for your belongings to go into the screening machine before going through the detectors, otherwise the person behind you can easily steal your valuables.

6. Don’t check valuables or medicines
If you are checking a bag, remember not to pack any valuables inside. Although the airlines claim they will reimburse you up to $3,300 for lost domestic bags, they exclude “fragile” items, “valuables” and “business effects”– which includes things such as cash, electronics, jewelry and artwork. If traveling domestically, seriously consider shipping your bags ahead of time with FedEx, UPS or USPS.. This will save you time checking in at the airport and waiting around at baggage claim, hoping your bags arrived. Plus, you’ll save the checked luggage fees that many airlines charge, you’ll be unencumbered so can take public transportation more easily and you can track your bags, too! Just remember to do it via ground (and not overnight!) to save some cash. Allow your bags plenty of time to get to their destination, though – usually five business days. And if shipping to a hotel, find out if they charge a receiving fee.

7. Sign up for flight notifications
These days, flights are going out almost at full capacity. That means if you miss your flight or if it’s canceled, you don’t have a lot of time to snag a seat on the next one. Sign up for flight notifications from a third party app like TripIt. That way, if your flight is delayed or canceled, you will be the first to know – many times, even before the gate agents!

8. Load up your phone
Pre-program your phone with the phone numbers of your airline, hotel, car rental, cruise line, travel agent, car service, friends and colleagues. That way, if your flight is delayed or cancelled, you can get a jump on everyone else. The moment you learn of a lengthy delay or cancellation, get in line and call the airline’s 800 numbers. The reservations agent or your travel agent can do it for you, too. Keep in mind that the longer you wait, the fewer options you will have. Speaking of options, if you don’t check a bag, you have a much better chance of getting on an earlier or different flight. Also, if there are long holding times on the phone, buy a day pass to the airline’s club lounge where you will get better service, or consider hiring a service like CrankyConcierge.com.

9. Bring food and drink
On most flights in the U.S., airlines either don’t serve food or if they do, they charge for it. Instead of being at the flight attendant’s mercy as to what and when you eat, bring your own food. Buy something in the airport or better yet, bring something  from home. Be sure to bring plenty of water, too. Since you can’t go through security with bottled water, buy it on the other side or bring an empty bottle and fill it up at a water fountain so you can stay hydrated. In addition to your meal, you should bring snacks in case of any lengthy delays. I always have granola bars and almonds in my carry-on bag.

10. Stay entertained
Some airlines don’t have any entertainment options or power ports so be prepared. Before I had a laptop, flights always seemed to take an eternity but now they usually go by too quickly since I always do some work to pass the time. Make sure your devices are charged and fully loaded with entertainment. Bring extra batteries if necessary and if you’re old school, don’t forget magazines, books and/or newspapers.

11. Don’t pay for a luggage cart
It really irks me that many airports still don’t offer luggage carts for free like they do in most international airports. Instead of paying the $5 fee (that’s what it costs at LAX), go outside to the curb and look for ones that previous passengers have left behind. That’s what all the limo drivers do!

12. Pay for your travel with Barclaycard
Since it’s almost impossible to use your airline frequent flier miles during the holidays unless you are really flexible with dates or are willing to use double or triple the usual amount, then pay for your trip using credit card points. Credit cards like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard allow you to redeem your miles for travel statement credits starting at 10,000 miles for $100 toward all or a portion of your travel purchase of $100 or more made within the past 120 days. On top of that, for a limited time, you will earn over $500 in travel, 2x points per $1 spent, and a 5% rebate on all point redemptions. Learn more about it here.

This post is sponsored by Barclaycard Arrival but all opinions expressed within are my own.

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Johnny Jet

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About the Author

Johnny Jet
I used to be afraid to fly and at times even leave the house! I conquered my fear (long story) and now I travel to 20+ countries a year sharing my firsthand knowledge, tips and deals with friends, family and readers. Please sign up to our free newsletters and tell your friends!

1 Comment on "Holiday Travel: Airport Survival Guide"

  1. Alan Goldstein | November 23, 2016 at 4:28 am | Reply

    Hi Johnny,

    “Travel Tips” … you suggest shipping bags, rather than checking them. I discovered Ship Sticks, a service promoting shipping golf clubs ( https://www.shipsticks.com/ ). While I used them for my golf clubs, but learned they’ll also ship luggage (up to 25 lbs, 50 lbs, or 72 lbs). They actually use UPS and FedEx but have negotiated much better rates than we, the public, can get (about 40% less than UPS Ground). Do it all online and print labels. They’ll pick-up at your house or you can drop off at a local UPS/FedEx site.

    Also, I always print my full itinerary (flights, hotels, my contact info) for my own record and also insert a copy at the top of each bag being checked. Should the airline tag get torn off, the airline can identify me and where the bag is supposed to be on any given date of my trip.

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