Lesson travel headaches with these tips Photo: Erik Odiin via Unsplash

Traveling for the holidays? Be prepared for crowds. AAA predicts that more than 115 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from their homes between Dec. 23 and Jan. 1. It’s the second-highest holiday travel forecast since AAA began tracking in 2000, which means it’s inevitable that chaos will ensue: flights delays and cancellations are all but guaranteed. The Escape Home spoke with both seasoned travelers and those that work in the airline industry to get their tips on how to make holiday travels go as smoothly as possible.

Make that list, check it twice. And not just in your head — use a notes app on your phone and write down those little things that are easy to forget but oh-so-important: prescription meds, chargers, identification. If you’re traveling outside of the country, don’t forget to check immigration requirements, lest you be scrambling to secure a visa days in advance (yes, we are speaking from experience). 

Prepare for the worst. This means having snacks, portable chargers, access to things like said medications, a toothbrush, and contact solution. TV shows, movies and podcasts downloaded. A way to get comfy: think eye mask, travel pillow, sleep sack.

Sometimes flying budget will cost you in the end. MARIO TAMA/GETTY IMAGES

Remember, you get what you pay for. It’s probably a little late for this now, with most people having booked their flights, but one Delta pilot who previously flew for a budget carrier told us: those tickets are dirt cheap for a reason. You don’t get amenities like drinks or bags, but what people don’t understand is that you’re buying a ticket essentially without insurance. Frontier is notorious for canceling a flight and saying “sorry, your refund will be issued in 3-5 days.” A line like Allegiant might do the same, or with their extremely limited flight schedule, their next scheduled flight might be days away, and oh, it’s now oversold so you’re out of luck. When you book with a major carrier, they have the network and available seats nationwide to get you places. It might suck having to take an extra day leaving Boston in a snowstorm, but they will get you there. Maybe you have to take a connection that’s extremely out of the way, but you will still get there. People complain, but other airlines would just say, “congrats, here’s your refund, figure out how to get to your destination yourself.”

Call. The same pilot told us that when flights are canceled, he commonly sees people languishing in long lines at the customer service desk. The smart travelers, he said, have a seat, call customer service and get booked on the next flight, compared to the person who waited in line for two hours only to find out the next flight is full. If anything, call customer service while you’re waiting in line.  ​​And please, he added, don’t ask flight attendants or pilots about your connecting flight — they only have information about the flight they are currently operating. 

Download your airline’s app. There is a ton of information available on the apps, which are updated constantly, including bag tracking and gate changes. “You wouldn’t believe how many people ask me why their plane isn’t at the gate that’s on a printed boarding pass from yesterday,” another pilot shared. 

Consider travel insurance. Check and see if your credit card offers coverage. If it doesn’t, depending on the type of trip you’re taking, look into what is available, and don’t book additional coverage through your airline carrier — there are better options. As far as refunds from airlines go, when flying in the U.S., it’s unlikely you’ll get much from your airline in terms of refunds, hotels and food vouchers. “All airlines use the verbiage “act of God” to erase their liability, aka weather,” the Delta pilot told us. “And it’s not entirely based on what the weather outside your current location is, so it can be misleading. It is based on what the airline puts as the delay or cancellation code.” That being said, you can always read the fine print — we are big fans of Erika Kullberg, an attorney and personal finance expert who has gone viral for the deals and refunds she scores by “reading the fine print.” You can watch her talk about tips for airline travel here.

And with that, we wish you smooth and safe travels!

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