If you’ll be traveling with family during the holidays – or any time of year – there are ways to save time and money. And if you’re traveling with children, these tips might mean the difference between great memories – or meltdowns.
Listen to the expert: Rick Seaney survives flights with family!
1. Bags: Pack to Save
Bag fees cost money. On most airlines, the round-trip baggage fees for a family of four – where each member checks a bag – will add an extra $200 to the price of the airfare. There are three alternatives:
- Fly JetBlue or Southwest: The only two airlines offering free checked-bags
- Use carry-on bags: Free on all airlines except Allegiant and Spirit
- Split the difference: Check just one or two bags, consolidating belongings
2. Balance Cost vs. Convenience
When you shop, know that there are two significant ways to save on certain flights:
- Fly connecting routes instead of non-stops: On longer-haul flights, the savings can range from 20%-60%
- Fly into large, hub-type airports: Can be worth a longer drive from your home (but there are exceptions to this rule which is why you must always compare airfare prices)
Before you shop, ask yourself these questions: Are your children good travelers? Are they easily entertained? Can they nap on planes/in airports if necessary? The more “yes” answers you can supply, the more likely the cheaper flight options will be successful – but only you know for sure.
3. Prep the Kids for Security
The more you explain, the faster you’ll get through the line.
Security rules: Teach kids about security requirements, especially if they’ll be using carry-on bags. Remember the 3-1-1 liquid rule applies to them too, although children under 12 no longer have to take their shoes off (and the same is true for travelers 75 and older).
X-ray machines: Explain what happens, and how fast it is. If you aren’t nervous about it, chances are they won’t be either.
Experienced travelers line: Some airports offer separate security lines for veteran travelers and the less-experienced which generally includes people with small children. If your kids are older and savvy thanks to your prepping, get in the faster experienced line.
TSA PreCheck: Find out if you’re eligible for this TSA program, now offered at more than 25 airports around the country. Certain miles members with Alaska, American, Delta, United and US Airways get invited to participate or you can join a government trusted traveler program. PreCheck has gotten rave reviews from many travelers and is worth investigating.
4. Try New Fees
Many airlines have done away with early boarding for families, so they can charge fees for such conveniences for all but the most elite travelers. The good news is, holidays and other peak travel periods such as summer are a good time to try new fees because with airline tickets so expensive, the fees are a relative bargain. Best bet: Early boarding fees which can go for as little as $10 per person.
5. Don’t Forget Food and Entertainment
What to do the night before the trip – and last minute must-haves.
- Charge it: Make sure all electronic devices are fully charged and be sure chargers are on your person – you never know when you may have to while away a few hours in an airport.
- Games, books, movies: You know what your children like so bring it.
- Food: Again, you know what your children like, so pack it. And remember that an airplane may not be the best place to follow everyday food rules so bring on the treats – desperate parents of screaming kids have succeeded in taming tots through sheer bribery.
Bonus Tip – Bribes
If the kids are having a meltdown, fellow passengers will appreciate any visible effort you make at trying to calm them down, and never underestimate the power of a bribe for adults either – an offer to pay for headphones or drinks can soothe the sourest of seatmates.