Thanksgiving is a time for lists: Grocery lists. Menus. Black Friday shopping strategies. Holiday wish lists.
Here’s one to add to the list if you’re flying over the holidays: steps to take now to make your Thanksgiving travel go more smoothly.
You wouldn’t wait until the night before Christmas to shop, so why wait until you get to the airport to prepare for your Thanksgiving travels?
1. Check your reservation to see if you bought a basic economy ticket, and if so, brush up on the restrictions so there are no airport surprises. Basic economy passengers generally board last and don’t get seat assignments until the last minute, unless they pay a fee. Delta Air Lines and American Airlines open seat assignments for basic economy ticket holders a week out, so mark the date on your calendar if you don’t want to risk a middle seat or being separated from your traveling companion. United allows basic economy passengers to reserve a seat for a fee at ticket booking and beyond. Prices tend to rise as the travel date approaches.
Hoping to dodge bag fees and save time by bringing a carry-on bag aboard? That will backfire if you’re holding a basic economy ticket on United Airlines. United won’t let you bring a standard carry-on bag, so pack light or pay to check a bag at the ticket counter or skycap. Whatever you do, don’t bring a standard carry-on bag to the gate. There’s a $25 surcharge (on top of the checked bag fee) to check it, and it will still go in the belly of the plane, not in the overhead bin.
2. Double check your seat assignments, especially if you’re traveling with young children. Waiting until you get to the airport to rearrange your seats is a recipe for stress and disappointment. Try to change the seats online or call the airline for help. Flying with a lap child? Call the airline to make sure it’s noted in the reservation.
3. Feeling flush or celebrating a special occasion? Check out options to upgrade to cushier economy seats or get priority boarding. Delta, United and other airlines peddle seat upgrades on their mobile apps and other channels. American’s and Delta’s more-legroom seats come with free drinks and other perks. Southwest Airlines’ upgraded boarding, which is available for sale only on the day of travel, lets you jump to the front of the boarding line for a fee of $30, $40 or $50, depending on the route.
4. Check your airline’s baggage weight limits. Most major airlines have a 50-pound limit per checked bag, but discount carriers Spirit and Allegiant have 40-pound limits and are strict about them. Many airlines will allow you to prepay for bags so you don’t have to pull out your credit card at the airport. On discount airlines, it’s cheaper to pay for bags in advance than at the airport.
5. Love TSA PreCheck? Make sure your known traveler number is in your reservation or risk getting relegated to the standard line. Here’s hoping it’s not expired. If it is, renew now, so you’re not stuck in the regular TSA lines for Christmas or New Year’s travel. If you receive TSA PreCheck benefits as part of a Global Entry membership, beware of lengthy delays to renew in some cases.
6. Reserve your airport parking. Many lots fill up, especially if you’re not flying out until the day before Thanksgiving. While you’re at it, look for online discounts. They are everywhere in cities with a lot of parking competition. Airports and hotels even offer parking promotions.
7. Download your favorite movies, television shows or music to your phone, tablet or laptop now or risk slow airport Wi-Fi leaving you with nothing but the in-flight magazine for entertainment on flights without seatback entertainment. Check your airline’s in-flight entertainment options on its website. Some, such as Southwest Airlines, require you to download their mobile app in advance to access free movies and TV.
8. Worried about wintry weather messing up your travel plans? Keep an eye on the forecast, and at the first sign of a significant storm, check your airline’s website for travel waivers/alerts. To avoid stranding passengers, airlines frequently let travelers change their flights to an earlier or later day without the usual penalties. The time period varies by airline and severity of the storm. The earlier you take advantage of the waiver, the better for the most flight options. If you’re schedule is flexible, you might end up with a better flight than you booked. You can’t cancel and get a refund, though, unless your flight has been canceled.