‘Tis the season for canceled flights, delayed trains and long security lineups, as millions of people from around the world gear up for one of the busiest travel times of the year.
Last year, Canadians spent an average of $686 on travel, an expenditure which has remained virtually unchanged since 2013 (a year which saw a 65 per cent increase in travellers compared to 2012), according to the 2013 and 2015 BMO Holiday Outlook.
At Toronto’s Pearson International Airport alone, passenger traffic during the month of December has increased 18 per cent between 2012 and 2015.
As stressful as all those bodies sound, travelling during the Christmas break doesn’t have to be anxiety-inducing.
Global News sat down with travel expert Claire Newell ahead of the holiday rush to talk travel planning and prep, and other tips and tricks to help make your Christmas vacation as stress-free as can be.
Before anything, decide how you’re going to get from point A to point B. Will it be by plane, train, bus or car?
And whether you’re travelling by air or ground, Newell says to book your tickets as early as possible. This way you’ll have a better chance of snagging a seat on the flight, train or bus you want. If you want to save money on flights, some sites like Skyscanner ever offer suggestions on when to book (for example, New Year’s Eve flights should be booked the week of Dec. 5).
But if you’ve missed any of their suggested deadlines don’t worry because savings can still be had in early December.
For Christmas flights, you can still save between two per cent and five per cent on average if you book from Nov. 28 to Dec. 5. For New Year’s flights, travellers can still save about six per cent to 11 per cent between Dec. 5 and Dec. 26.
When you book your plane, train or bus tickets, you should also be strategic with your departure dates, Newell says.
“If you can avoid the peak dates; that’s really what you need to do,” she says. “If you can, I’d say consider travelling on the actually holidays. People don’t like to travel on Christmas day or on New Year’s Eve, so consider going at those times.”
The dates to avoid according to Newell are Dec. 23, 24, 27, 28, and Jan. 2, 3 and 4.
“No matter which way you cut it the holidays are incredibly busy and it’s going to be busy straight through from Dec. 19 until Jan. 5,” Newell says.
Newell also suggests booking a connecting flight. While direct flights are convenient, she says they are more expensive. Just make sure you give yourself plenty of time in between flights and choose an airport that is less likely to see bad weather or delays.
When it comes to packing, keep it light and smart, especially if you’re flying. Newell suggests taking only a carry-on so you avoid checking your bag – but make sure they meet the height and weight requirements of the airline.
Should you need to have a checked bag; Newell says to take a photo of the contents in your luggage (before it’s pack and when it’s packed). This is a helpful visual for the airline employees when they’re looking for your lost or misplaced baggage.
She also adds to double check the tags on your luggage before it’s checked and even think about tagging both the inside and outside of your luggage, regardless of your mode of transportation.
“We’ve seen it; it’s human error,” she says. “Sometimes they accidentally switch two digits and it’s going to Sydney, Nova Scotia and not Sydney, Australia.”
And most importantly, have a plan B in place.
“A lot of flights and trains will just be delayed,” Newell says. “But if they cancel completely you need to make sure you’re armed with [some key] information because everybody will be looking to re-book on flights or trains or buses to get them to where they want to be with loved ones over the holidays.”
This requires a bit of research beforehand, she adds.
“If you’re flying, maybe look at a different airline that has a flight two hours later or a train that might be able to get you there if you’re not going too far versus going on an airline if the airports are closed,” says Newell. “I recommend people call the 1-800 numbers of the airlines, trains or bus stations because everyone is going to be lining up at the customer service desk.”
More tips, tricks and hacks to consider
Other suggestions from Newell, include:
- Checking all airports before purchasing your tickets. If the city you are departing from or headed to is serviced by several airports, check them all during your search for flights. Secondary airports often host budget airlines offering cheaper fare. They may also have cheaper parking and smaller crowds.
- Fly early in the morning as you’ll have better on-time performance. And if your flight is cancelled, you will have the option of taking a flight later in the day. It’s also best to avoid landing between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. which is tarmac rush hour.
- Don’t wrap your gifts until you’re at your destination. Security will often unwrap your gifts to check the package. Maybe think about buying gifts online and have them delivered to your destination, or give gift cards.
- Make the most of your credit card perks and benefits. Each card offers different things, but some have benefits specifically related to travel.
- Be organized and ready to deal with busy airports. Re-confirm your flight before leaving for the airport. Get to the airport early and be prepared for long lineups. To avoid some lines try online check-in and curbside baggage check. Have all of your documents in order and make sure you check the airline’s restrictions ahead of time for carry-on luggage and fees for checked bags.
- Get a seat assignment at the time of your booking. Do not arrive at the airport without one, since this will significantly increase your chances of getting bumped if your flight is oversold or your aircraft is switched at the last minute.
- Bring things to make your flight or train more comfortable or be ready to pay for them (e.g. headphones, light blanket, snacks and entertainment). Make sure to have these things while driving with kids as well to keep them occupied, but don’t forget to carve out some family time as well.
- If you’re driving and relying on a GPS, make sure to also have a paper map with you as a backup – just in case you GPS fails you in any way.
- Load up your smartphone and stay connected. Enter numbers for emergency contacts, your airline information, travel insurance and credit card company, etc. Download apps that will show you weather conditions, flight status, airport maps and gate locations. A great app to consider is called the ICE (In Case of Emergency). No matter where you’re travelling to, first responders from around the world know that if something goes wrong they can open that app even if you’re phone is locked and read the information that’s in there in seven different languages.