The 20 Best Tips for Holiday Travel in 2022

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Taking time off to visit and catch up with family during the holiday season is one of the best parts of the year. Traveling during the holiday season — not so much. Summer travel woes could continue through winter, and high inflation is causing many Americans to rethink their holiday plans.

Trips to Discover asked eight travel industry experts for their best advice and tips on navigating the 2022 holiday travel season. Stay ahead of the game this year with the 20 best holiday travel tips of 2022.

Here is a breakdown of everything you will learn on this page.

Holiday Travel Tips

Renting a Car
Car driving at snowfall

Renting a Car

This summer’s shortage of new cars squeezed the rental car market, causing soaring rates. Book your rental car NOW for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Traveling this holiday will be busy and expensive; 64% of U.S. travelers will drive, according to Vacasa, a vacation rental management company. CarsDirect predicts global semiconductor chip shortages won’t alleviate until 2023 — prepare for undersupplied cars this season. 

If you need a large vehicle or other special accommodations, you will want to get on reservations immediately. Expand your search outside the airport to find better rental car prices. You pay a premium to rent a car directly from the airport, but you will often find it cheaper to catch rideshare or taxi to an off-site car rental location. Nationally, the most affordable company is Enterprise Rent-A-Car, costing an average of $69 per day to rent a car, according to NerdWallet.

Keep an eye out for holiday specials; Sixt is currently offering Thanksgiving car rental deals. Avis Car Rental presently offers 35% off when you “Pay Now,” but note that paying upfront can cost you if you cancel your reservation. However, if you are sure you will not cancel, paying upfront will usually save you money compared to paying at pickup.

It’s never too early to start planning for the next holiday so take a break from the physical and digital retail spending to check out Black Friday or Cyber Monday car rental deals for December. Discount car rental site Car Rental Savers keeps a live, updated list of these deals you can use to your advantage.

Navigating Airports

How early you should get to the airport depends on many factors, but generally, the larger the city and airport, the earlier you want to arrive. Two-time Emmy-winning PBS Host Samantha Brown advises what to bring and when to arrive at the airport.

“Base your departure from home to the airport on your boarding time (not on your flight’s departure time), Brown recommended. “This approach ensures that you will be able to board early if needed, have time to get settled and make sure you will have overhead compartment space.”

What if you travel with kids, as many of us will be this season? Brown has a few tips to make airport navigation with the little ones a little easier. Check out her pre-boarding hack on Instagram.

“It involves having one parent use pre-board to load belongings onto the plane while the other parent stays behind and tires out the kids until the last minute,” explained Brown.

Samantha also suggests skycap services for family travel, which provides curbside baggage check-in.

“This way, you can ditch your bags before heading into the airport,” Brown said. “Freeing up your hands to corral, keep track of your kids, and avoid at least one line.”

Boarding Pass Advice

Mobile boarding passes are far superior to printed passes for several reasons. First, with mass cancellations and flight delays, your flight could change, and if you have to book a whole new flight (let’s hope not), you are better off adapting by pulling up your new flight’s mobile boarding pass. 

To get your boarding pass on your phone, you must download the airline’s app of whom you are flying. Typically you can use the app as a “guest” without creating an account. Then you can find your flight with your name and reservation number. Many apps store your flight information as a guest, so you only need to do this once.

While you don’t need to print your boarding pass if you have it on your phone, to best prepare for holiday travel, it is wise to print your boarding pass and download it to your phone. This way, you can avoid the unexpected but never unlikely event that your phone’s battery dies, or you drop and break it while trying to get through security screening — to name a few reasons.

The Best and Worst Days to Drive for the Holidays

The winter holidays produce some of the worst road congestion yearly. Generally, the day before Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and the day after New Year’s are the worst travel days of the holidays. Travel can be tricky between Christmas and New Year’s as well. The day after Christmas and the day before New Year’s Eve are also busy times to drive around or head home.

As with most holidays, the best days to drive this holiday season will require you to extend your trip’s duration.

“If you’re driving out of town for the holidays, the best days to drive are usually the Monday before Thanksgiving and after,” according to the booking website, TripShock. “This is because most people want to leave on a Thursday or Friday, so there’s less traffic on those days.”

The best day to drive around Christmas is usually Christmas Day itself. If you are not sticking around for New Year celebrations, then often three days after Christmas is the best time to head back.

The Best and Worst Days to Fly for the Holidays

The best days to fly for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, in terms of both prices and crowds, are on the days of the holidays themselves, according to Jon Stephens, Director of Operations, Snowshoe Vacation Rentals.

“The vast majority of people choose to fly in the days leading up to and following these days, so airlines will often make ticket prices cheaper on the holidays themselves to encourage people to fly on those days and reduce airport traffic,” Stephens advised. “If flying on those days isn’t an option for you, try to avoid flying on weekends because those days will be the busiest and the most expensive as well.”

Although the day before Thanksgiving is usually a bad day to fly, Christmas and New Year’s Eve can be one of the season’s least busy flying days. 

The worst days to fly for Thanksgiving are typically the day before and the Sunday after. The worst days to fly for Christmas are usually up to two days before Christmas Eve and as far out as two days after Christmas. Flying in for New Year’s is usually not as bad as Christmas, but January 2nd is often one of the busiest flying days of the year.

Holiday Budget Travel Tips

Booking Through Search Engines
Bike stuck in snow

Booking Through Search Engines

Although travelers should not solely rely on travel agency metasearch engines to book travel, clever bookers can often find the best deals using these tools. Isabella Diaz, Founder and Site Manager of Rubalkhali, shared a few of her favorite engines for booking flights and hotels.

“For airlines, Kayak, Skyscanner, or Priceline can help you compare rates from different carriers and find the lowest price at any given time,” Diaz recommended. “There are also online tools which can help you sort flights by duration and number of stops. For hotels, similar services like Trivago, Tripadvisor, and Google Hotels will help you compare prices and filter by features like location and available amenities.”

Kayak hotels is also one of the best ways to book hotels, and Skiplagged is another excellent resource for finding cheap flights, hotels and rental cars. Although you can find great deals on flights with Skyscanner, you’ll also unintuitively find hotels and car rental deals

Save on Hotels

Outside of using metasearch engines mentioned above, travelers can save money on hotel bookings in several ways. 

If you are traveling on a very tight budget, even something like a hotel deposit can affect your planning. It can be hard to find a cheap hotel with no deposit, and there aren’t many hotel chains that have a blanket “no deposit” policy. Your best bet for finding a no-deposit hotel is Motel 6 or Super 8

Here is a trick to try and waive a deposit at other hotels — just ask. More often than not, if you are friendly, respectful and unexpecting, the hotel will forgo a deposit charge at booking. If you feel extra lucky, you can even try politely asking at check-in if they are willing to waive the incidental deposit. You might be surprised how often hotels are willing to accommodate such a request! This only works when booking directly with the hotel, not a third-party site like a metasearch engine.

Another way to save on accommodations is by staying at a hostel! Although they are usually only in larger U.S. cities, they can be a great way to get around without draining your wallet on rooms. Hostelworld is a great hostel market website where you can find and book available hostels worldwide directly on one platform.

Flight Extras

Extra stretch room, in-flight Wifi and extra beverage or snack purchases cost far more than they are typically worth. Spending on flight extras will be more or less valuable to each traveler, but some hidden extras can catch you off guard.

First, plan your baggage needs ahead of booking and if you need to check a bag, make sure you pay for that at the time of booking. It will almost always cost you more if you wait to pay the baggage check fee until you are at the airport. 

If you are trying to save money on flight bookings, another thing to watch out for is the various seat packages incorporating the word “economy” these days. Premium economy is a classic example of this offering. Premium economy seats are between coach/economy and business class and typically cost significantly more than an economy class seat. When deciding premium economy vs. economy, scrutinize the extras you are getting with the premium selection to determine if the upgrade is worth it.

One-Way Flights

Sometimes, the best way to get a flight deal is to unbundle everything and book one-way flights through separate airlines. You won’t usually find cheaper fares if you are trying to book through the same airline, according to the travel booking site, OneTravel. When you book one-way flights through different airlines, you have a much more extensive selection of times which can result in cheaper flights. 

Shop around when choosing between round-trip vs. one-way flights. Go through the booking process to see the total cost of all three tickets (one round-trip vs. two one-way) and weigh the costs and hassles of each route before deciding. Sometimes the hassle of booking two one-way tickets won’t outweigh the savings.

Holiday Travel Planning Tips

TSA PreCheck® and CLEAR
Illustration of travel planning

TSA PreCheck® and CLEAR

With 2022 summer travel woes in mind, you might be wondering if TSA PreCheck is worth it. First, the program is not expensive, only $85 for five years. The most significant benefit is an expedited security line that moves far faster than the standard security lines. 

The average TSA PreCheck passenger only waits five minutes to go through security, according to the Transportation Security Administration. Shoes, laptops, belts, liquids or jackets also do not need removal if you are a TSA PreCheck participant.

CLEAR or Clear Secure is a program that uses biometric verification at airport security and allows you to bypass the standard security lines. You can start the application online, but complete enrollment requires you to stop at a CLEAR airport location to scan either your eyes or fingerprint. Then on your next flight, find the CLEAR lanes at security to verify your identity biometrically, after which a CLEAR “ambassador” will escort you to the front of the physical security line.

Tracking Flight and Hotel Prices

Knowledge is savings when booking flights and hotels, especially knowing the typical costs associated with your selections. It’s essential to track these prices so you can pounce on the perfect booking opportunity the moment it arises. After many years of working with clients to coordinate travel, Michael Belmont, Owner of The Park Prodigy, an online travel agency dedicated to the Disney and Universal theme parks, knows the best tools to track flight and hotel prices.

“It can be pretty challenging to hunt down cheap flights,” Belmont explained. “However, savvy travelers know that there are a few strategies they can use. I first recommend signing up for price alerts from multiple airlines and travel sites using flight aggregators like Google Flights and Kayak. If you sign up for alerts now, you will receive emails whenever flight prices go down for your itinerary. Flight alerts are the best way to jump on discounted rates as soon as they go live.”

When to Book Holiday Flights and Hotels

The best time to buy Thanksgiving and Christmas flights is almost always to do it sooner than later. You will have a much wider window for the best time to book hotels than flights for the holidays, but that can vary dramatically depending on location. For more specific booking advice, we asked a few experts when they think the best time is to book your flights and hotels.

“By mid-October as prices will start rising after that as flights will start selling out,” said Duke Armitage, airline pilot and founder of Aviamonde.

The time of day can also make a difference in your flight and hotel costs, according to Tim Hentschel, Co-Founder and CEO at HotelPlanner.

“Search and book during non-peak hours, like midnight or 6 AM on a Sunday,” Hentschel advised. “Airline and hotel prices are fluid and dynamic and can change by the minute. Booking during non-peak hours can save you a lot of money.”

Portals, Packages and Points

Using Travel Portals to Book Holiday Travel
Floating airline rewards cards

Using Travel Portals to Book Holiday Travel

Unused miles wracked up during COVID-19 means many travelers who still have miles to spend will be looking to book holiday travel plans using travel portals. You can book flights, hotels, car rentals and entire vacation packages through a credit card travel portal if you have a credit card with specific portal privileges from an issuer offering travel portal bookings.

Extra: List of the best credit cards for Airbnb

One of the most popular options is the Chase Ultimate Rewards® travel portal. If you have a lot of miles saved up on your Chase card or any card offering travel bookings, here are a few things to keep in mind before you book with your miles.

First, many travel portals offer the option to transfer your points to a travel partner to book directly through their sites. You will want to window shop to see which redemption method gives you the best value! There is no solid rule here, and it’s always worth checking both options before you book.

Sometimes it’s just not worth using your points yet if the cash cost of a ticket is low enough, such as with shorter flights. You can weigh cash vs. miles by dividing the cash ticket cost by the number of miles it would take to purchase to find the dollar-per-mile price of that ticket. Compare that to the typical mile value of using your points to book travel — usually a penny per mile. Consider paying with cash and saving those miles for another day if the value you calculate is significantly lower than average.

Packages and Bundles

The cost of domestic tickets is so high during the holidays that international vacation packages become comparatively appealing. Metasearch engines, like Kayak Packages, are great tools for finding these deals. You can also often book vacation packages directly with your favorite airlines, like United Vacation Packages or even book a vacation through Costco Travel, including airline tickets if purchased as an add-on.

Preparing for Holiday Travel

Delays, Cancellations, and Trip Insurance
Airplane waiting departure in winter storm

Delays, Cancellations, and Trip Insurance

Airline staffing is rising, but unlikely to smooth out airline labor problems that caused so many flight cancellations this summer by the holidays. We asked Travel Edge Advisor Rommel Benedicto and Carib Compass Travel & Wellness Advisor Tracey McGoughy for their best advice in dealing with flight cancellations and delays. 

Benedicto recommended ditching the go-it-alone route and using a travel agent to book your travels.

“Always coordinate with your Travel Advisor (this is one of the many benefits of working with one instead of booking on your own) as soon as you learn about the interruption,” Benedicto said. “Travel Advisors receive the same notification as you do, and they can do the legwork behind the scenes — eliminating the need for you to line up at the airline ticket counter at the airport.” 

McGoughy emphasized the importance of contingency planning.

“My advice is before you leave for your trip, develop a plan B and possible plan C for getting to your destination and purchase travel insurance,” McGoughy said. “Historically, travelers have seen it as an optional add-on to their trip, but it’s really not anymore. Everyone should be purchasing travel insurance to protect their trip, especially if they’re planning to fly. This is especially true if the flight is just part of your full trip itinerary. For example, if you’re flying to a port to board a cruise ship or if this flight connects to another flight, a flight delay or cancellation can have a ripple effect on the rest of your travel plans.” 

Flights get delayed for a myriad of reasons. The chance of the weather being the culprit increases during the wintertime, McGoughy emphasized. 

“If the delay or cancellation is because of weather, the airlines have no obligation to offer any form of compensation for unexpected expenses travelers may incur,” Mcgoughy said. “Travel insurance may reimburse you for those expenses.”

It can be worth purchasing a more comprehensive trip or flight insurance policy to better protect against potential travel problems. AXA Travel Insurance offers tiered plans covering everything from flight cancellations and lost baggage to sports equipment rentals.

Holiday Packing Tips

Packing is one of those things that we all have to do, yet we seldom question how we are doing it. A few adjustments to your packing routine can alleviate a lot of stress and take some weight off your shoulders — literally! Here are a few packing tips for how to pack a suitcase for the holidays!

  • Rolling: You will find it much easier to pack your suitcase like a Tetris game if you roll your clothes instead of folding them. Rolling garments allow you to utilize every square inch of your bag in ways you cannot with folding. However, we recommend you still fold bulky items or wear your bulkiest clothing during travel.

  • Wrinkles: This goes hand in hand with the point above — avoid wrinkle-prone fabrics like linen and cotton. Certain materials like polyester and wool are wrinkle-proof to an extent and are far less likely to develop those unsightly creases in a tightly packed suitcase.

  • Checklist: Creating a list for holiday packing in an app like Google Keep is one of the best things you can do for yourself. It might even take a couple of trips to get the list perfected, but once you have curated a master packing checklist, you will alleviate the mental strain and self-doubt of packing. 

  • Presents: Do not take wrapped gifts on a flight! The TSA could unwrap your package to check its contents, which is not exactly known for its gift-wrapping services! Instead, mail or order those gifts to deliver to your destination. If you truly can’t trust the family not to take a peak and feel you must fly with your gifts, wait to wrap them at your destination. We recommend not doing this, as it can make packing more complex and heavier!

Holiday Safety Tips

COVID-19 and Health
Traffic jam of toy cars carrying holiday gifts

COVID-19 and Health

Another holiday season living with COVID approaches us, and many of us are wary of precautions and jabs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns against losing our guard. This season many will get together in larger groups or even for the first time since the pandemic began, and health officials are warning of a flu comeback. So this holiday, CDC guidelines recommend all eligible persons get a COVID-19 booster and a flu shot as soon as possible, especially if you plan on traveling or gathering for Thanksgiving, as the booster needs time to reach max efficacy.

Holiday Driving and Car Maintenance

If you plan on driving this holiday season, taking your car for a pre-road trip inspection at your local mechanic is a good idea. Pay extra attention to your tires if driving in wintery conditions and brakes — holiday traffic is no joke, and you will want your car to be as reactive as you are. Don’t forget to check your oil, especially if you have driven a lot this summer without a checkup!

Driving while on holiday can be a nightmare sometimes, but if you plan and prepare for traffic, it doesn’t have to dampen your season. Allow plenty of time to get to your destination so you don’t feel the need to speed to make up time after traffic jams. Drive defensively and don’t respond to aggressive driving behavior, but take control of the situation by leaving the path of the aggressive driver — letting them pass you or go first at an intersection.

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