Last-minute tips for an airplane trip this holiday season


Robyn Parets

Robyn Parets

Blog author Robyn Parets

Robyn Parets is a personal finance and business writer based in Boston. A former writer for Investor's Business Daily (IBD) and NerdWallet, Robyn is also the founder and owner of Pretzel Kids, a children's fitness brand and online training course. You can find her on Twitter @RobynParets.

Published December 17, 2016|1 min read

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Whether you booked your holiday travel weeks ago or plan to do so at the last minute, traveling during this busy time of year is never fun. At the same time, it’s often unavoidable if your plans entail visiting relatives or family out of town. To help minimize stress for your upcoming plane trip, take a look at our top holiday travel tips.

If you haven’t booked your flight yet:

  • Look for last-minute deals while avoiding the busiest travel days. Generally speaking, the period surrounding the holidays is peak travel time and is therefore one of the most expensive times of the year to travel, according to TravelGuard and Independent Traveler. If you have any flexibility in your travel dates, try to avoid flying on the days immediately before and after the holidays -- usually the busiest travel days of all. This year, December 23, 26, and 30, as well as January 2 are predicted to be the busiest travel days. The least busy travel days tend to be the actual holidays themselves: Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Because most people have already planned their holiday flights, booking on holidays may mean you’ll find a better selection of available flights and seats too. Another perk: You avoid the worst of the airport crowds.

With Christmas just days away, you can still find last-minute deals, especially if you’re willing to travel on a Tuesday or Wednesday. According to sources, airfare on these two days, plus New Year’s Eve, tends to be lower than on other days of the week. To search for deals, check out Airfarewatchdog,, and

  • Book a nonstop flight. Since you’re likely traveling to be with family, you might as well improve your chances of actually arriving to your destination in time for the holidays. To this end, a nonstop flight gives you the best chance of making it to your destination on time; however, be prepared to pay more money for the convenience of one flight versus making several stops at points across the country. In winter, travel delays are common, especially in colder regions of the north and northeast. But bad weather isn’t the only thing to hold up air travel; according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Report, factors like airborne and ground congestion, navigational tech issues and airline internal problems all play a role in delaying flight plans.

  • Book the first flight out in the morning. This is my own favorite travel tip. As much as I dread waking up at 3:30 a.m. to catch a 6 a.m. flight, I know that once I’m on board, I can fall back asleep. In the meantime, early morning flights lead to fewer travel delays. Why? Typically, early morning flights originate from your local airport so you won’t be stuck waiting for a plane or crew flying in from another destination. This gives you a better shot of taking off on time. Once your early-bird plane departs, you’ll arrive at your destination with more time during the day to be with your family.

Airport tips:

  • Arrive at the airport early and pack light. Because you can expect big airport crowds during the holiday season, arriving earlier than usual gives you plenty of time to check bags and move through long security lines. If you can avoid checking a suitcase and instead take a carry-on bag, this is the way to go. You can also help minimize your stress by wearing slip-on shoes and traveling without jewelry and belts. This way you can easily remove your shoes and walk right through the security line.

  • Don’t pack wrapped gifts. If you’re bringing holiday gifts with you, save the wrapping for when you arrive. If a TSA agent takes a closer look at the contents of your bag, he may decide to unwrap a present to see what’s inside, according to The TSA Blog. This will not only hold you up, but you’ll have to wrap the gift again anyway.

  • Do pack travel insurance. A last-minute flight can be expensive. In addition, if you have a layover, you may be faced with delays or lost baggage. With a travel insurance policy, you will typically have access to 24-hour phone assistance to help you rebook your flight and track down lost luggage. Travel insurance also offers you financial protection to help pay for an airport hotel room or replace a lost suitcase or its contents. Lastly, if you have to cancel your trip due to an emergency, travel insurance will help you recoup non-refundable flight costs. You can buy travel insurance through the airline at the time of booking or through a third party provider like The cost will depend on your age, exact dates of travel and the cost of your flight. As an example, using InsureMyTrip, rates start at about $48 for an insurance policy for one person spending $800 on a roundtrip flight in the continental U.S. departing on December 23 and returning on December 27.

If you’re taking to the skies this holiday season, take your precautions before, during and after you travel. Planning ahead as you’d do with your holiday gift shopping can help you save money and time, so the time spent with your loved ones isn’t held up stranded at the airport.