UPDATED Dec. 9, 2015
If plan to fly in the next couple of days or weeks but don’t have a ticket yet, see the ‘deals’ section below. Then, review the last-minute checklist which can save time and trouble, and maybe even a few bucks.
LISTEN: Travel expert Rick Seaney’s bonus tips.
Finding Last-Minute Deals
We’re not talking deals in the conventional sense, we’re talking best possible price for the holidays.
- Shop now: The longer you delay, the higher the price.
- Always compare fares: If you go to a single airline’s site to book tickets, you may pay too much because no airline always has the cheapest fares.
- Look for unpopular flight times, travel days: Depending on the route and when you buy, you can save as much as $100 (or more) by trying one of these strategies:
- Look for overnight flights or other unpopular times to fly.
- Compare fares for connecting flights with non-stops; there is often a premium for the more convenient non-stop.
- Flying on the holiday itself can often save money.
- Use miles/points: If you can use some of your points on tickets (or wheedle some from family or friends) this could reduce overall costs.
Last-Minute Travel Checklist
1. Print boarding passes at home.
Sure, put the boarding pass on your phone but phones die. And printing a boarding pass at an airport kiosk could take way too much time thanks to long lines in crowded airports. True, an airline rep could print it out but that’s another line and you may be charged a fee.
- Tip: If you don’t have a printer, get a friend to do it.
2. Leave for the airport extra early.
When we say early, we mean double the usual. Maybe you fly all the time and know exactly when you can depart for the airport, but holidays mean lots of people who don’t fly much and these folks’ unfamiliarity with parking, bag restrictions and security regulations can slow everyone down. Besides, all it takes is one traffic accident on the way to the airport to screw up the best-laid plans.
- Tip: Don’t miss your flight. Plan to arrive at the airport at least 90 minutes to two hours before take-off.
3. Weigh bags after you pack.
Most airlines allow up to 50 lbs. per checked-bag. Carry-ons are sometimes limited to 25 lbs. Go over the limit, and – surprise! – another fee. Surely that money could be better spent on champagne on New Year’s Eve.
- Tip: Airline baggage police will be out in force during the holidays and they will take too big/too heavy carry-ons away from you and put them in cargo.
4. Did you pack your ___?
Must-pack suggestions: Medications, eyeglasses, contact lenses, phones, tablets, printed boarding pass, passport (if needed), documents regarding pets, documents confirming age of ‘lap children’ (must be under 2), food/lunch, edible treats and games for kids, etc. Keep these items on your person or in a carry-on.
- Tip: Do not pack valuables. They can get lost or stolen and most airlines will not cover these losses. The airline definition of ‘valuable’ is pretty loose, too, covering such things as sunglasses, books, electronics, photographs plus big ticket items like furs and jewels.
5. Be nice (and not just because it’s the right thing to do).
Don’t let the holidays stress you out. Remain calm, be patient; this may come in handy in the event of delays or cancellations. As several anonymous airline employees have told us, “Who would you rather help, the angry guy screaming at you or the nice guy who says ‘please’?”
- Tip: Be nice; you may encourage others to do the same.
That’s it. Now go and have a wonderful trip.