Cheapflights.com's Travel Experts have come up with the 10 most common mistakes festive travelers make and offer their advice on how to avoid them.
Procrastinating: Reports abound of airfares going up close to $5 per day on average at this point for holiday season travel. So there is no more time to delay booking your flight if you are planning to take to the skies this year. And, don't end the procrastinating there. Last-minute packing, staying at the office to wrap-up just one more thing before dashing to the airport or even planning to hop into a cab instead of pre-arranging airport transportation increases the odds of making your holiday travels anything but festive. Instead, get a head start on your New Year's resolutions by becoming the advanced planner who isn't derailed by a long line, extra security check or a traffic jam.
Cutting connections too close: Obviously, booking an inexpensive flight is a goal anytime you travel, but, especially around the holidays, pay attention to connection details, as well. It's better to have a long layover than to risk rushing through an overcrowded airport for your next flight. If you don't make the connection, it's long odds there will be a seat on the next plane. And, with winter weather in the mix, it's good to pad your connection time even more if your travel involves any locations with the potential for snow and ice. The best holiday gift to give yourself might be a direct flight. Our gift to you is some extra advice: avoid the last flight of the day on a connecting flight if you can so that you don't end up sleeping in the airport if something goes awry.
Traveling with the crowd: As always, flexibility is a core principle for keeping holiday travel cost and hassles to a minimum. The flights closest to Christmas and the weekend between Christmas and New Year's are when the crowds and costs will be at the highest. Try a Thursday-to-Thursday trip to buck that trend or, better yet, catch a Christmas or New Year's Eve flight for a more affordable and pleasant experience. You may even get a free celebratory drink from the airline. Keep alternative airports in mind, as well. A short drive on either end of the trip might help you stash some cash to help pay the January credit-card bill.
Cashing in points: Blackout dates from airlines and people who plan months and months in advance have combined to make sure that there are virtually no seats left in the holiday season for a reasonable number of points. Unless you've been banking points for years and have no bigger plans for them, or are a Super Elite flier, this is one of those times when spending cash is a better long-term investment.
Not planning ahead for gifts: Just to add to the complexity of the season, holiday travel often also means holiday gifts. You plan to give them and you hope to receive them. The question is how do you manage the process when traveling? Fortunately, online shopping has helped with the gift giving as you can have many presents delivered to your destination either to yourself for wrapping and exchanging or straight to the intended recipient. If you do bring gifts with you when you travel, just remember to save the wrapping until you arrive so you and your luggage can get through the security screening. For gifts you receive, bring a folded up duffle bag so you have the option of packing gifts to go. If you can get away with one checked bag and one carry-on on the return, it might be the most affordable way to get your holiday bounty home.
Overpacking: When traveling during the busiest time of the year, luggage can really slow you down. So pack with a plan. If you can manage with a small and well-organized carry-on, that's your best bet as you can skip the baggage check-in and collection process (and fees) all together. However, this is not the time of year to try to get through security and onto a plane with excess or oversized bags in hand. The overhead bins will be overflowing and the gate agents and TSA officials and your fellow passengers will not be in generous moods if you are slowing the boarding or security process with overloaded bags or hands. In general, less is more when it comes to gliding through the airport.
Booking flights and hotels separately: If a hotel stay is in the mix for your Yuletide travel, don't overlook the cost savings of "flights+hotels" search. With prices trending up on both airfares and hotel rooms, you will want to get the best collective deal possible and most online sites offer packaged pricing when you book lodging (or, in some cases, car rental) at the same time as your flight.
Waiting to check in at the airport: lines, lines and more lines. That's what you can expect when traveling this December. The airlines are doing their best to help you cut some of those lines with online services. An online check in not only saves you waiting to check in, but also the awkward juggle of digging out your credit card to start the process as well as any technical snags you might hit at the kiosk. If you are not checking a bag, you can, of course, skip right to the security check. If you are checking a bag, your airline is likely to offer a discount on your checked bag fee to reward you for your online efforts. Finally, if there is an overbooked flight, guess who gets bumped most often... the last person to check in!
Eating on the fly: It's one thing to get to the airport early to avoid stress with the plan for a nice meal once you get there. Certainly airports are increasingly offering upscale restaurants that can make eating at the airport a treat. However, if you are planning a dine and dash, you may find long lines, a shortage of seats and, of course, inflated prices on everything from a bottle of water to a pre-made turkey sandwich. And food options on the plane will be even more limited, costly and culinarily questionable. Better to stash an empty water bottle and a home-made sandwich or favorite snack in your carry-on and eat food you like, when you want and without the hassle or cost.
Not packing a book: Holiday travel is full of hurry-up-and-wait. And while there are lots of modern toys to help distract you from the process, if you find yourself sitting on the tarmac or even in a crowded airport for any length of time, a book is still your friend. It needs no power outlet or data connection and its battery won't die. Losing yourself in good story maybe just what you need to transport you if your plane isn't doing the trick.
Follow Cheapflights on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cheapflights