You’ve made a list. You’ve checked it twice. You’ve bought the perfect gift for, well, everyone—and even made space for said gifts in your suitcase (thank you, packing cubes!). You’re officially ready to fly home for the holidays. But what you’re not ready for? The stress of holiday travel.
In an already busy time of year, the last thing you need is for something to go awry in your travel plans. Here are five ways to mitigate the stress of holiday travel—from navigating lines at the airport to booking flexible accommodations, and more.
1. Sign up—now—for a trusted traveler program
When it comes to navigating airport security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, there can be a lot of unanticipated hiccups—long lines, misplaced IDs and boarding passes, extra security checks—that slow you down. Especially during the busy holiday travel season.
That’s where trusted traveler programs come in. But knowing which program (or programs) meets your needs can be tricky. Here’s a quick look at CLEAR, TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, and Mobile Passport Control.
CLEAR is a registered traveler program that allows members to quickly verify their identities at dedicated security kiosks and move through airport security. Instead of using traditional photo identification documents (such as a driver’s license or passport), CLEAR uses biometrics. Specifically, the program scans your fingerprints and/or the irises of your eyes to verify your identity.
You can sign up online and then complete your application at an airport kiosk in just a matter of minutes. If you’re flying out of one of CLEAR’s 35+ airports, you can also sign up for the service on-site.
CLEAR membership runs $179 per year, but with a TripIt Pro membership, you can try CLEAR on a four-month free trial, plus you’ll receive a discounted annual rate of $149.
TSA PreCheck is a trusted traveler program that allows you to quickly move through airport security. The program is administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Once you’ve been approved as a low-risk traveler, you gain access to an expedited security line where you don’t have to remove or separately scan your laptop, liquids, shoes, or jackets.
A five-year membership costs $85 for initial enrollment and is available to all U.S. citizens or permanent U.S. residents.
What’s the difference between TSA PreCheck and CLEAR? In short, TSA PreCheck expedites the security line part and CLEAR expedites the ID-checking part; you can sign up for one or the other—or, you can use the two programs together to make navigating airport security as quick as possible.
Global Entry allows pre-approved travelers expedited entry into the U.S. from international destinations. U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents, and select foreign nationals are eligible to apply for membership. Once accepted into the program, your membership is active for five years.
The cost is $100 for the five-year membership—and includes TSA PreCheck.
Concerned about completing your interview for membership? If you're traveling internationally for the holidays (and you've been conditionally approved), you can complete your Global Entry Enrollment on Arrival. Here's how.
Mobile Passport Control
Mobile Passport Control is another trusted traveler program offered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection that allows travelers expedited entry into the U.S. from international destinations—but unlike Global Entry, it does not require pre-approval. Simply download the app and submit your passport information to get started.
Read more: 5 Apps to Download for Your Next Trip
2. Upgrade to TripIt Pro
TripIt is designed to make the process of traveling as organized—and thus, stress-free—as possible. And while the free version of the app helps you keep track of all your travel plans in one place, those who have the Pro version can tell you it does so much more.
“TripIt keeps me sane. I’d pay triple the annual fee of TripIt Pro for the peace of mind it gives me.” - Peter Shankman, keynote speaker, author, and founder of HARO
With TripIt Pro, you’ll have access to features like:
- Fare Tracker to notify you if your airfare price drops after you book
- Flight alerts to keep you informed about delays or cancellations
- Connecting Flights to tell you how to find your connecting gate
- Alternate Flights to help you find new flight options when you need them
- A four-month free trial and discounted CLEAR membership
- COVID-19 travel guidance to search for country/regional guidance before booking a trip
Tip: For a limited time, you can save 50% on TripIt Pro*. Upgrade now.
* Offer not available to existing TripIt Pro users.
3. Plan ahead for winter weather
Here’s a tip for those who haven’t booked their holiday flights yet: Book nonstop flights via larger airports.
Here’s why: We all know winter weather increases the potential for flight delays and cancellations. Add to that multiple cities and flights, and you’re increasing your chances for one of those flight plans to be interrupted. Bigger airports mean more airlines and more flights—a formula that will hopefully increase your chances of getting out if you experience a delay or have to rebook.
It can also help to book early morning flights, as those are the least likely to be delayed by air traffic.
Related reading: Flying During the Winter: 4 Ways to Prepare
4. Have a game plan in case you get stuck at the airport
Getting stuck at the airport is always annoying, but especially so when traveling during the holidays. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to mitigate the amount of time you spend stranded—and act on what’s within your control.
1. Communicate with the airline
If you’re stuck at the airport on a busy holiday, the first thing you should do is communicate with your airline. Once you hear your flight is canceled or significantly delayed, immediately get in line at the ticket counter to see if they can book you on a different flight. Then, call the airline’s customer service number while you’re standing in line.
You can also consult TripIt Pro’s Alternate Flights feature to figure out what your options are for getting on a different flight. Pro members can search for alternate flights right in the Pro hub.
2. Know your travel credit card benefits
If you booked your flight with a travel credit card, you might be eligible for travel protection benefits. (Hint: Now’s the time to double-check what your card provider offers.) These benefits can help recoup some of the costs you might incur while stuck at the airport.
3. Look up a nearby lounge
For elite status members, you likely already know where to go. For those travel credit card-toting flyers, this is the time to pull up the Priority Pass app on your phone (or head to their mobile site) to find a lounge you may already have access to.
For those travelers without elite status or a Priority Pass membership, fear not. You can usually buy a day pass (or even a membership) at a lounge’s entrance.
5. Book accommodations that offer flexibility
When it comes to hotels, consider booking at the refundable rate. It’ll cost you a bit more, but it’ll be worth it if you need to change or cancel your plans (and get your money back!) this holiday season.
If you're planning to book a vacation rental for the holidays, remember to use search filters to display properties with flexible cancellation policies.
And always—always!—read the fine print. Just because a host promises flexibility doesn’t mean you’ll get 100% of your money back—and many rentals have a deadline by which you need to cancel to get a refund.