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It’s never too early to start your holiday travel planning. In the early fall, you can take advantage of lower rates and seats aplenty. To jump on a bargain, sign up for sale notifications from your preferred airlines or Amtrak and follow your favorites on Twitter and Facebook where special sale notifications may pop up before they are available to the general public. Discover these other secrets to snagging travel deals.
As more airlines start charging for checked bags, it’s a good idea to pack light and carry on your bag. But keep in mind that your fellow travelers will all have the same idea and overhead space may be tight onboard. To lighten your traveling load, consider shipping some of your belongings to your final destination ahead of time, especially presents and bulky items like diapers or extra clothes that you won’t need for the journey. Plus, be sure to check out this helpful family travel packing list.
Choose the Best Days
The day before Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year, closely followed by the Sunday after the big day when travelers tear themselves away from the leftovers and football to make the journey home. Avoid these days by flying out on Monday or Tuesday or even Thanksgiving morning to avoid the dreaded Wednesday travel rush. When you’re ready to head home, take flight on Friday when the masses have moved on from the airports to the shopping centers to score the best holiday deals. The crowds pick up again on Saturday, reaching a critical peak on Sunday, before leveling out on Monday.
It’s commonsense to arrive at the airport early — you’ll need the time for parking, security and to wait your turn for that necessary cup of coffee. But you can avoid some airport hassles by taking advantage of useful applications that can be used on your smart phone. iPhone users can get the skinny on the airport, including maps showing the gates and restaurant information, using the GateGuru app. Airlines including Southwest, Delta and American Airlines all have mobile websites where passengers can check in, confirm seats and keep track of their flight status. Check out these top mobile apps for travel.
While you certainly save money and avoid some headaches traveling by land, navigating the highways presents its own set of holiday challenges during the extended Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Traffic can choke heavily traveled routes, like the I-95 corridor on the East Coast, adding hours to generally speedy trips. Follow the same best practices for road travel, including avoiding the highways on the Wednesday before turkey day and the following Sunday.
Plan your route ahead of time and travel with a GPS system, smart phone or old-school maps to offer alternatives if you need a Plan B. And to avoid unnecessary delays, bring along an E-ZPass or change for the tolls, as well as plenty of snacks, and be sure to fill up on gas before you hit the road. Also brush up on tips to handle hazardous road conditions during icy or stormy weather.
American Airlines Seating Tip
I just learned a little trick on American Airlines’ website (I’m not sure if it works for other airlines). When I was checking my dad in online for our flight from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, the seating chart was only showing seats available for purchase, and none for free. Like a fool, I guess, I hadn’t assigned him a seat when I originally booked his ticket, and since he now needed a seat, it seemed we would have to pay.
But instead of plopping down my credit card for a $28 seat next to me in the exit row (which I get for free since I have elite status), on an hour-long flight, I pressed our luck. Sure enough, by simply not choosing a seat and boarding without a seat, he was assigned one of the available seats in the premium section for no extra charge.
American is really crappy here. I often find that – when I purchase my ticket – the only available seats shown are the “upgrade” seats – though sometimes seats open up close to day of flight. You can choose one or, as JJ did, try your luck. I did pay for the upgraded seats so my family of three would be sure to sit together. Sure enough, at the gate, the agent offered those same upgraded seats free to anyone who wanted to move so that families could sit together. When I asked – several times – they refused to refund what I paid for that privilege. Tried again, trusting to luck when flying with my dad. We got random seats when we checked in, but the gate agent was happy to arrange seats so he could sit next to me, no upgrade needed. To clarify, though, did your dad BOARD without a seat, or was he assigned one when he checked in at the airport?
Here are a few suggestions to help you get the most out of your Universal Orlando visit.
Purchase a multi-day ticket – We’ve got two amazing theme parks full of thrills and excitement. You’ll want to spend at least a full day at Universal Studios®, where you can experience the wild and hilarious The Simpsons Ride®, take your music for a rideSM on Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit®, and zap aliens on Men in Black™ Alien Attack™. Over at Universal’s Islands of Adventure spend a day, swing high above the streets on the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man®, plunge down an 85 ft. drop as your escape the jaws of a T-Rex on Jurassic Park River Adventure® and fly along side Harry Potter™ on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™.
Add park-to-park access – If you only have one day purchase a ticket with park-to-park access to experience the best of both Universal Studios® and Universal’s Islands of Adventure®.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ – We recommend you visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter early in the day to avoid the largest crowds. On certain days the park may institute a Return Time Ticket system enabling you to pick up a free ticket in the park to gain entry to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter later in the day.
Dress for the Weather – It may be Florida, but it can still get chilly in January and February. Check Orlando’s weather forecast online before you make your trip. Even if it’s warm during the day, nighttime temperatures can drop significantly.
A successful travel day does not happen by accident. If you’re going to get to where you need to be safe, sound and ready to go, there are some very specific things to do along the way to improve the chances of that happening. Priority No. 1: Reduce anxiety in whatever ways you can; make it easier to do your best work.
1. Always leave early. Always leave earlier than necessary for flights ferries or trains, and allow more time than you think is necessary to get there.
Missing a flight because you wanted an extra 30 minutes of sleep doesn’t make any sense. If you show up early, you can use that bonus time to work on something else. And if you run into a problem en route to your destination, you won’t have to stress about being on time.
2. Make sure all travel itinerary info is entered into your smart phone. Don’t underestimate the value of having easy access to confirmation numbers for your hotel, rental car, flight, etc., as well as phone numbers for each of those agencies. Sooner or later, your plans will change when you’re on the go, and having all of the pertinent information at your fingertips can change the game. Plus, it’s nice to be able to check your flight status without having to dig through your briefcase to find your flight-confirmation printout.
3. Take a (great) seat. If you’ve ever watched The Amazing Race, you know that contestants on the show are always jockeying for seats at the front of the plane so they can be the first ones off when it lands. While you might not need to be as strategic with your seating as those racers, keep in mind that the aisle seat does have its advantages. It allows you, if necessary, to easily get the items you need out of the overhead bin. (Side Note: Be sure to plan what you’ll need during the flight before the plane takes off so you won’t have to keep opening and closing the overhead bin.) Also having a seat in the exit row and on the aisle makes it easy to get up if you have to use the lavatory. Face it: Drinking lots of water is one of the best ways to stay healthy while traveling.
Related: Road Warrior 101: Preparing for the Trip
4. Invest in a club membership with the airline of your choice. If it’s possible, do it. The first year I flew 30 segments marked the beginning of my membership devotion. (In 2011, I flew 142 segments.) You’ll gain access to club space, so when you’re waiting for your next flight you’ll have a calmer, quieter, cleaner, more comfortable place to be your best productive self. And perhaps most importantly, the space will be quiet enough for you to make calls to clients or colleagues without airport announcements blaring in the background.
5. Always carry cash. You never know when a problem with your bank or credit card company will cause a card to be denied. Always travel with cash so that you won’t be left stranded without a way to pay a cab driver or without money for lunch.
6. Plan meal times. From the airport to your destination city to the journey home, you gotta eat. Do a little thinking about where and what you’re going to eat before you even leave your house.
Related: Must-Have Mobile Apps for Business Travelers
On short trips I always make sure to have a Balance Bar or a bag of nuts from Trader Joe’s. For flights longer than five hours, I make sure to include time in my schedule to grab a sandwich, a salad, and a bottle of water at the airport. I also recommend figuring out where you’re going to eat at your destination before you begin your journey, if possible. The day before you travel, call the concierge at the hotel where you’ll be staying. Ask for lunch and dinner options within walking distance or a short car ride from your hotel. This will not only save you time searching for food once you arrive, but it will also help you ensure you go to quality restaurants while on your trip.
7. Picture It. Your cell phone’s camera, of all things, provides several time-saving options that may also save you headaches during a travel day:
Use it to take notes. Instead of digging around looking for a pen and paper, simply snap a shot of books and items you want to buy or price-check online, restaurants you want to visit, billboards of shows you want to see, etc.
Use it to remember your parking spot. Take a picture of your parking lot space number and parking structure floor. Travel days are stressed and rushed, for most people, remembering where you left your car a week later can be a challenge.
Comfortable shoes. These are a must! You’ll be doing a lot of walking around the theme parks, and you could be on your feet quite a bit more than you may anticipate. For this reason, we do not recommend wearing flip-flops or heeled shoes to the parks.
Dress shoes. For the fashion-conscious, stylish shoes will come in handy if you plan on dining at one of our upscale restaurants, such as Emeril’s® Restaurant Orlando or hitting the nightclubs at CityWalk®.
Sunscreen. They don’t call Florida the Sunshine State for nothing! It doesn’t take long to get sunburned. Make sure to cover up!
Sunglasses. Great for two reasons: you’ll look like a movie star, and you’ll protect your eyes from the bright sun.
Baseball cap or wide brimmed hat. Hats will help to shield your eyes and face from the Florida sun. This is especially essential for men with bald or shaved heads. Remember to take your hat off on our thrill rides, though!
Swimwear. You’ll definitely want to cool off in the pool while you’re in Orlando. You may also want to bring your bathing suit or a change of clothing when you come to Universal Orlando’s theme parks. Some of the water rides, particularly in Universal’s Islands of Adventure, will get you quite soaked. There are rental lockers where you can store your clothes. Some people even wear their swimwear underneath their outer clothes, and strip down to their bathing suits before boarding the water rides.
Jacket or sweatshirt. Believe it or not, it can actually get pretty chilly in Florida. Between December and February, the temperature can fluctuate from week to week between T-shirt warmth and winter coat cold. Be sure to consult your newspaper, television, or the internet before your trip to determine the weather forecast for the entire length of your stay, especially if you’re visiting in the winter.
Backpacks and shoulder bags. A small, soft-sided bag is always handy to have with you when exploring the parks. Please be advised that your bag will be inspected by Security before you enter the theme parks, and you may have to check it in a rental locker before boarding certain thrill rides and roller coasters. We recommend that you pack only basic essentials and leave valuable items at home or in your hotel safe.
Wet wipes. These are a good idea if you’re traveling with kids, especially if they’re going to be snacking.
Camera with batteries, plenty of film or extra memory cards. Expect to take lots of photographs during your visit.
And most important, don’t forget to bring any essential medications you or your family will need during your stay! You can stop by Health Services at each park for assistance with storing your daily medication.
We offer a variety of fresh, delicious food for our guests to enjoy at restaurants and concession stands throughout our resort; however, we understand that guests may need to bring outside food and drink into our parks. Please note the following guidelines for bringing food and drink into our parks:
Small snacks that do not require heating
Any food required for medical purposes and medically–indicated nutritional supplements
Any food required for special dietary needs
Baby food/baby formula
Soft-sided insulated bags no larger than 8.5″ wide x 6″ high x 6″ deep
Food that requires heating or refrigeration
Alcohol and glass containers
Soft-sided coolers larger than 8.5″ wide x 6″ high x 6″ deep
Coolers, suitcases, and bags with wheels
Please be advised that all bags and personal items are subject to inspection.
For many, leaving days before Thanksgiving may conflict with your work or schooling schedule, so the next best thing? According to travel experts, the best day to travel for Thanksgiving is actually the day of. If you can’t get a jump start on your vacation, consider leaving the morning of Thanksgiving, when most have already reached their final destination and most airlines offer reduced fare options.
All airlines suggest customers arrive hours before their scheduled boarding time during regular travel periods in order to allow an adequate amount of time to get through security. While the normal time frame, a minimum of two hours before domestic flights and three hours before international flights, will usually ensure you don’t miss your flight, Priceline.com travel expert Brian Ek recommends adding extra time to allow for the expanded number of passengers traveling around the Thanksgiving holiday. “If your flight is in normal business hours, when airports are more crowded, then you should add another 30 to 45 minutes,” Ek told FoxNews, adding, “Get thru security and relax. Who needs the stress?”
CONSIDER CARRYING ON
Not only will carrying on your luggage save you time at the airport, it will also ensure that you have the essentials handy in the case of an emergency. During the holiday season (especially during a winter storm watch) it isn’t uncommon for flights to be canceled or heavily delayed. Having your basics such as a change of clothes, medications and toiletries handy (remember: only liquids and gels in 3.4-ounce containers or smaller allowed), will make airport delays all the more bearable.
CHECK & DOUBLE CHECK
Speaking of weather-related delays, checking and double-checking your airline reservations will only ensure a more stress-free holiday travel experience. Checking in virtually 24 hours before your flight, and reconfirming your seat reservation, is a smart plan of actions if you’re planning to get out of town for Turkey Day.
SPEED UP SECURITY TIME
Not only will preparing for the security screening process, such as remembering to place liquids in plastic baggies, taking off your shoes and jackets, and placing metal and other objects in bins help, but utilizing the TSA’s prescreening process can also add less time to your travel time. Passengers 12 years of age and under and 75 and older, known travelers or active duty service members are allowed to apply for the TSAPre check process to potentially avoid the pat-down process. (Click here for more information.)
The TSA also frowns upon guests that attempt to bring wrapped gifts through security checkpoints. “Wrapped gifts are allowed, but we recommend waiting until you land to wrap them,” said the TSA’s official blog, adding, “If there’s something in the gift that needs to be inspected, we may have to open it. … It also slows down the line for everybody else when we have to do this.”