Tips for Holiday Travel

Celebrate the season with these smart recommendations for your next trip.

By Terry Ward

While it’s been said that the joy is in the journey, this isn’t always true—particularly around the hectic holiday period, when airports are crammed with inexperienced travelers and winter weather can undermine travel plans. Extra patience and travel savvy go a long way now. Read on for tips for traveling like a pro at one of the most beautiful, and busiest, times of the year.

Choose Flights Wisely

Those 5:20 a.m. flights are painful but worth it. “Book early-morning flights for the best on-time performance,” says Travelzoo senior editor Gabe Saglie, who also recommends flying nonstop whenever possible. “Adding a connection or two can bring your airfare price down,” he says, “but factor in things like the increased chance of missing connecting flights and lost luggage, and suddenly the extra cost of flying nonstop is actually insurance,” he says. If you can’t avoid connections, choose to transfer through cities with milder winter weather (Charlotte and Houston over Philadelphia and Denver, for example) to further minimize potential delays. Pay attention to connection times, too. Airlines may let you book a ticket with just a 45-minute connection, but if you miss your flight you won’t be rebooked nearly as easily as during other times of the year. Allow yourself at least one-and-a-half hours to connect if you can’t fly nonstop.

Cast a Wide Net for the Best Vacation Deals

Going on vacation during the holidays is a great way to de-stress, and a broad mind brings the best deals. “Decide on a type of trip rather than a specific destination,” says Melisse Hinkle, head of content and social media for North America at Cheapflights.com, who advises being open to a cruise in the Caribbean rather than a single-island vacation, or researching ski trips to Wyoming or Oregon instead of targeting a particular resort in Colorado. The holidays are also a good time to use loyalty programs for rental cars and hotels. For example, Costco members can get deals on rental cars. And booking through a travel agent can help you land perks that appear to be sold out online, such as interconnecting hotel rooms for family stays.

Reduce In-Airport Hassles

Even if you know not to wrap presents until you get to your destination and to stay out of lines full of inexperienced travelers (families, etc.), going through security in airports is a major stressor. Savvy travelers take preparation a step further. “First and foremost, apply for Global Entry, which also gives you TSA PreCheck clearance for shorter lines, and no taking off your shoes and belt or unpacking your laptop,” says luxury travel consultant Ania Wroblewska, of Classic Travel, in New York. She also suggests using a meet-and-greet service, available at many airports (including those at St. Barthélemy, Jamaica and St. Martin), to be ushered to the front of long immigration lines. If you do get caught in a stressful line and are afraid you’ll miss your flight, Hinkle says, “do not melt down or expect special treatment, but rather ask people around you for help getting through, and explain your situation.” In other words, pack your patience along with all those holiday goodies.

  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: December 2015