Thanksgiving Travel Tips: How to Save Money & Time When Flying, Traveling By Train or On Road Trips by Zongqing Zhou, Ph.D.
Planes, trains and automobiles. However you're traveling this holiday season, here are some tips to help you save time, money and headaches.
Purchasing Airline Tickets
If you are planning to fly to be with friends and family for Thanksgiving, it would have been wise to book by Labor Day. But, between now and one week before Thanksgiving there are still savings to be had. It almost always pays to book sooner rather than later. However, all airlines now use "yield management" computer programs to forecast demand and therefore prices can fluctuate based on forecast demands.
If you do need a last-minute deal, consider departing on Thanksgiving Day and returning on Monday, November 26. For next year, it's advisable to book between mid-August and Labor Day. Waiting until the very last minute means paying top dollar in most cases.
Getting on the Plane
"Allow extra time" is the most common admonishment offered to those traveling on the eve of Thanksgiving, the most traveled day of the year. It is sound advice. However, travel expert Dr. Youngsoo Choi, Associate Dean & Associate Professor, College of Hospitality & Tourism Management, suggests you go a step further.
- The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has an excellent phone app, MYTSA, which is updated regularly. It allows you to check your flight status or security wait time via your phone. Also, the TSA Pre-Check membership for $85 that expires after five years is well worth it!
- TripIt, TripCase and Seat Guru are additional apps (Android, iOS) that perform similar functions that may also be helpful.
- If you get stuck in the terminal waiting for a delayed flight and you need a comfortable spot to kill time, try LoungeBuddy. Whether you are traveling economy or first class, Lounge Buddy (Android, iOS) comes to the rescue and helps you find airport lounges in more than 500 airports worldwide.
- Lastly, remember to travel light. As more airlines charge for checked bags and baggage areas become especially crowded, it may be best to stick with a carry-on only. Keep in mind that fellow travelers may have the same idea and the overhead compartments may be cramped. But, using them will save time.
Amtrak anticipates 700,000 travelers during the last week in November, its busiest travel week. Once again, get to the station early and be prepared for lines at security checkpoints.
- Have your photo ID handy and, at busier stations like New York's Penn Station and Washington, D.C.'s Union Station, expect random security checks.
- The Amtrak app, AMTRAK, generally receives good reviews and offers online booking, trip information, texts for departure and arrival times. Best of all, discounts are offered to regular travelers.
Scoring discounted tickets on Amtrak for Thanksgiving is not nearly as easy as purchasing plane tickets, due to a lack of competition. According to Dr. Choi, there are a few ways to find discounts tickets with Amtrak:
- Join Amtrak Guest Rewards, a free loyalty program. Promotions come directly to your inbox and points are earned each time you travel.
- For many Amtrak routes, there is a seven to 14 day advance purchase discount, allowing you to save 20 percent or more off the lowest available fares. (You must choose the Adult passenger type when booking to receive the discounted fare.)
"Because of the expected high-volume traffic both in the air and on the road that can create an unpleasant experience for the holiday traveler, the train may provide them with a hassle-free, pleasant, relaxing and nostalgic experience," adds Dr. Choi.
Good news for those planning to drive to visit friends and family during the upcoming holiday season: gas prices are expected to remain at or below their current levels through the end of 2019. You will certainly save money traveling by car, but there's always the chance Mother Nature will work against you!
The AAA estimates that some 42.2 million people will travel at least 50 miles over the four-day Thanksgiving holiday. So, if you're driving, brace yourself for some serious traffic, and the potential for extremely bad weather. It's important to plan your route ahead of time and make sure you have a GPS system or a phone app like WAZE. These offer traffic and other real time route information.
Finally, E-ZPass will save you time at the toll booths – for those states that still have them!
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