When should you book holiday travel?
You should always book holiday travel as far out as possible, especially when it comes to air travel. Airlines have cut capacity and service to different markets resulting in fewer seats and higher demand. Consumers could find themselves "shut out" from even being able to secure a flight if they aren't proactive and well in advance of travel dates. It's a simple case of less supply during a high demand period. Result: higher fares, especially close in due to the airlines use of "yield management." It means that they have a very sophisticated price modeling that squeezes every potential dollar out of remaining seats as you approach a travel date. Other suppliers, like hotels and cruise lines, have also adopted this model. A recent American Express survey shows that holiday travel is going to be up this year so get booking.
Is there a better day/ time to book?
The short answer is "NOW." We are so close in at this point that you are running the risk of not being able to get a flight at a decent price, if you can even get the flight you want.. If this was August/Sept/October it would be different. I urge people to jump at that moment. Usually best to book in the early morning and midweek.
How can you avoid hidden fees?
Understand upfront that the price you see on a website is not necessarily your final price. Travel providers want to show you their best price, especially in the transparent pricing world of online travel sites, so they will add on "back end fees" to make up for a lower advertised price. What that means for the traveler is more work to truly get to the actual cost of the trip. An example is a hotel in Las Vegas that charges $30 per day to use their gym and pool. It's called a "resort fee." Of course airlines are always finding ways to hit consumers with additional fees, from checking bags to speaking to a human being when booking a trip...that's right, you actually pay a fee with certain airlines if you book through a reservationist versus their site. Consumers need to be diligent to avoid these surprises that can significantly impact the overall cost of a trip. Good tip is to pack light for air travel and carry on your luggage. If the overhead gets filled up, you can always gate check your bag, something you won't get charged for. Another good tip is to use a professional travel agent who is well aware of all of these hidden fees and one that can save you money in the process. If you don't have one, check out www.ExploreFlightFees.com to get an idea of what each airline charges in additional fees.
Any way to avoid getting stranded or long lines?
Most airlines have new self-serive developments that offer web check in and the ability to print your boarding pass 24 hours in advance. Do this to avoid standing in line at the airport. Book non stop flights whenever possible, as any connection will dramatically increase your chances of being delayed. Get to the airport early and try to avoid flying on Mondays and Fridays during peak hours in the am or pm as this is when business travelers are flooding the airports and delays are almost inevitable. Check weather in your departure, as well as arrival city, to anticipate any potential problems...but understand that the major hubs like Chicago, when they have a problem due to weather or any other delays, cause a major ripple effect throughout the entire air travel system. You may not be going anywhere near Chicago, but your plane could be affected anyway.
How can you tell that you'll be delayed?
Check the airlines website before you leave for the airport, although this isn't fool proof. I've actually shown up at a gate 15 minutes prior to departure to see "on time" posted on the board and everyone sitting around...with no plane even at the gate! If you have an iPhone or other smartphones you can check out a website that tracks security lines at www.FlyOnTime.us
How can we be better prepared for travel?
Make sure you have a photo copy of your passport when traveling overseas and keep it in a different place from your physical passport. Should you lose your actual passport, this will make for a much faster replacement so you can get back home.
Any cool apps we can download?
Check out SeatGuru an app that rates seats by seat color.
Get yourself an iPad and load it up with TV shows, games, books and movies. It will run for ten hours without a charge keeping you on a flight from NY to Tokyo for almost the entire trip. That's if you don't sleep! Most major airports have built out large shopping complexes and provide services, including spa treatments, so take the stress out of travel and arrive at least two hours before your flight time. If you get through security quickly you'll be able to enjoy some dining and shopping in advance of your departure. Airport clubs that use to require an annual membership in the hundreds of dollars are now open to anyone via day passes. Have a long connection or getting to the airport early, take advantage of one of these private clubs. They provide complimentary snacks, drinks, wifi, and more....Book the first flight of the day, if possible, as delays are more prevalent later in the day. Make sure you have an assigned seat when you book to avoid getting bumped from an overbooked flight. Sign up for an airline credit card program (annual costs can average $75) to get miles that can be used for a trip and to also get priority ticketing, security lines, and boarding. When traveling during the holidays don't wrap gifts, and try not to check them at all. Carry them on if at all possible and wrap them when you get there.
About Mark Murphy:
Mark Murphy is a 20-year travel industry veteran recognized by his peers as an innovator at the cutting edge of online publishing, social media, advertising and brand marketing. His understanding of both the travel industry and the rapidly changing media landscape, combined with his desire to continuously offer unique and customer-driven solutions, has positioned him as a pioneer in the business. Mark has served as Publisher of Travel Agent magazine, and now writes regular columns and produces video segments for the industry leading publications he founded including Vacation Agent magazine, Agent at Home Magazine, and TravelPulse, the world's leading online news source for the travel trade. Murphy has hiked, sailed, climbed, kayaked, Segued and rickshawed his way through more than 50 countries around the world, and brings his extraordinary first-hand experiences to the travel veteran and amateur alike. He reports on exotic, off-the-beaten-path locations, travel deals, breaking news related to the industry, and is a passionate advocate on behalf of the agent profession regarding the advantages of working with a travel professional.