The holidays are here and to help you head into these next few weeks (and be prepared to navigate the long TSA lines and crowded baggage claims), we’ve rounded up our top tips on how to make your holiday trip as stress-free as possible.
KAYAK’s Top Holiday Travel Tips
1. Choose your flights wisely.
If there’s a chance of bad weather, you don’t want to leave or return on either the day’s first – or last – flight. Book a flight that leaves early in the morning if it’s available. It also helps to book a direct flight when possible – it’ll cut down on your travel time, of course, and catching a connecting flight increases your odds of encountering delays. Filter flights by the number of stops when you search to find your best options.
If you’re headed to or from somewhere cold, flight timing is key since things tend to get worse when the sun goes down. Try to time your flights to arrive/depart during the warmest parts of the day, say from mid-morning to the mid-afternoon.
2. Pack light.
Every trip starts with what you bring along for the ride. But if you’re packing style is more maximalist than minimalist, we’ve got a few tips that can help you make the most of your luggage space. One of our biggest pieces of advice is to see if you can get away with just a carry-on (or better yet, a personal item). That way, you’ll avoid the baggage claim entirely. If your air ticket comes with only a personal item (thanks, Basic Economy) and you’re wondering how much adding a carry-on will cost, check out our Airline Fees page for details.
If you’re flying somewhere chilly, it helps to make sure you’re as warm and comfortable during your flight. When you’re packing, be sure to leave out a travel outfit that has enough layers – you can always add on or take off pieces as needed. You may also want to pack a small, inflatable neck rest/pillow if you don’t love the idea of scrunching up your clothes to do double-duty.
3. Give yourself extra time.
When the airports are crowded, the last thing you want to be is stuck in traffic with your flight departing in 30 minutes. Be sure to give yourself lots of wiggle room from the time you leave home to the time you need to be at the airport. We suggest giving yourself an extra hour of time at the airport (at least). Best case scenario: you still make your flight on-time even though there were challenges along the way. Worst case scenario: there’s no line and you spend the extra time checking out the latest bestsellers and stocking up on snacks before your flight.
Extra time aside, there are some ways to minimize your time spent at the airport before your flight. First and foremost, try to check-in online the day before your flight. If your airline presents you with this option, it can influence your seat selection (if you haven’t already picked one out) and it could even help determine your boarding order. The earlier you check into your flight, the better.
4. Get instant updates on your flight.
Ever been rushing through the airport to get to your connecting flight only to find out that the gate changed once you arrived? Avoid this and other in-transit hassles with our free personal travel assistant, KAYAK Trips. Trips lets you organize all your travel plans in one place. We’ll let you know if there’s a flight delay or gate change, so you can be confident you’re in the right place at the right time. By also downloading the free KAYAK app, you won’t even have to check your email — Trips will send you push notifications as plans change.
5. Access VIP Lounges, without the first class ticket.
Yeah, it’s possible. Instead of searching your gate for an empty spot and having to brush crumbs off a seat, you can be sitting pretty on a lush sofa seat and a coffee bar at hand. You can make this happen, even without flying first class. One option is to check your credit card policy (they may have an agreement that gives you access) or to sign up for a service like Priority Pass, which has a network of lounges you can use.
6. Be merry. Just not too merry.
Meeting the 3oz requirement, it’s okay to pack a few nips in your liquids bag (although many airlines won’t let you drink your own booze on board). Just go easy on the airport and in-flight cocktails, as much as we like to loosen up a little for a flight, being overserved could put you (and others) at risk.
7. Staying at a hotel? Ask for early check-in.
After a long day of traveling, there’s nothing better than collapsing on a cushy hotel comforter. However, if your check-in isn’t until 3pm and you’re arriving at 10am, that’s a lot of hours to wander aimlessly. The best thing you can do is call the hotel in advance and request an early check-in. If they have a room available, most hotels are more than happy to oblige.
8. Let the office know you’re OOO.
Wallet? Check. Keys? Check. Tickets? Check. Out of office message? We can help with that. For total peace of mind this holiday, make sure your contacts know that you’ll be away. Our OOO Generator can filter to deliver you the perfect auto-reply that fits your mood. Answer a few quick questions and pick your vibe, and you’re well on your way to letting everyone know their monthly accounting reports can wait for when you return (or need an excuse to avoid the inevitable small talk with your Aunt Fran).
No matter where you’re headed this season, we have the tools you need to be confident you’re prepared for your trip. Happy holidays, everyone.
This blog was originally published on December 20, 2019, and updated on October 26, 2022.