Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers.
Update: Beginning February 2, 2016, British Airways will no longer offer 1-way, short-haul (under 650 miles) coach award tickets on partner airlines in North America for 4,500 British Airways Avios points. Instead these flights will cost 7,500 British Airways Avios points.
The busiest travel time of the year is approaching! Do you know how to save time, money, and aggravation during your Thanksgiving travels?
By planning ahead and making the most of your miles, points, and credit card perks, you can ensure your Thanksgiving trip this year is
stress-free more civilized!
I’ll share tips and tricks to help you have a better experience while negotiating the crowds, delays, and well-meaning relatives on your Thanksgiving adventure!
Find Your Zen This Thanksgiving
All kidding aside, Thanksgiving is an exceptionally busy travel time. The sheer volume of passengers, and delays due to weather, mechanical issues, or missed connections can make even the most seasoned traveler want to pull their hair out!
By planning ahead, packing carefully, and using your credit card benefits, you can help make your journey more enjoyable.
1. Plan Ahead
There’s a famous quote: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
It’s harder to find award flights over the holidays. So in many cases, you may not find award seats (unless you booked well in advance). But it’s not always easy to plan ahead.
That said, some airlines open award seats a couple of weeks prior to departure. So if you’re booking last-minute travel, all may not be lost!
Note: Consider booking last-minute award flights on Alaska Airlines and American Airlines using British Airways Avios points. That’s because short-distance flights under 650 miles only cost 4,500 British Airways Avios points each way. And they do NOT charge a late booking fee like some other airlines.
And if you find a last-minute award seat on United Airlines, check out this trick to save $75!
Or think about extending your trip slightly to fly on off-peak days, like a few days before or the Monday after Thanksgiving (or even early on Thanksgiving day). There’ll be more options on those days.
If you must fly on the busiest travel days, consider visiting here first! 😉
You might consider paying more miles or points for award seats at the standard (rather than saver) level.
Or use airlines like Southwest or JetBlue, where you can always find an award flight if there’s a seat for sale (but you’ll pay more miles and points, the more a flight costs!). It could be worth it to get the flights you want.
Remember, for paid tickets on Southwest, you can always save 5% to 6% by purchasing Southwest gift cards at office supply stores or supermarkets with cards like:
- AMEX SimplyCash – 5% cash back at US office supply stores
- AMEX Blue Cash Preferred – 6% cash back at US supermarkets
It’s also worth checking out no-frills, low-cost airlines like Allegiant Air, Frontier Airlines, or Spirit. Just be mindful they’ll usually charge fees for everything from seat selection to checked (and carry-on) baggage!
If all else fails and you can’t find award seats, you can still get Big Travel with Small Money!
Remember, you can use Chase Ultimate Rewards points towards paid airfare at 1.25 cents per point if you have the Chase Ink Bold, Chase Ink Plus, or Chase Sapphire Preferred card. And there are no blackout dates.
And don’t forget, if you have this card, you can use Citi ThankYou points towards paid American Airlines and code-share flights at a rate of 1.6 cents per point. Or 1.33 cents per point on other airlines.
Folks who have the Citi ThankYou Premier can book paid travel (including airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises) using their Citi ThankYou points at a rate of 1.25 cents each.
2. Save Time at the Airport
Don’t add stress to your travel by being late! Lines are long at the airport, so budget extra time to get there and navigate the crowds.
I try to stay on top of delays and departure times by checking the airline website or mobile app. Or check here to monitor your flight status:
- FlightAware (Apple and Android app available)
- FlightStats (download Apple or Android app)
- FlightTrack (available via Apple or Android app only)
- FlightView (Apple and Android app)
No point rushing to the airport to discover you’ll have to sit for hours waiting for a delayed plane!
If you have a credit card that reimburses you for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees, it’s not too late to qualify for these time-saving programs, which help you speed through customs & immigration or airport security!
These cards offer you statement credits for Global Entry, TSA PreCheck, or both:
- The Platinum Card from American Express – Choose between Global Entry and TSA PreCheck
- The Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN – Choose between Global Entry and TSA PreCheck
- The Platinum Card® from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz – Choose between Global Entry and TSA PreCheck
- Citi Prestige – Global Entry only
- Orbitz Platinum Membership – TSA PreCheck only
Remember, if you’re approved for Global Entry, you’ll almost always qualify for TSA PreCheck. That said, fly on an airline that’s part of the TSA program! Frontier, Spirit, and Allegiant Air do NOT participate.
3. Pack Light, Pack Smart
Nobody likes paying for checked baggage! That’s 1 of the reasons, along with the Southwest Companion Pass, that Emily and I almost always fly Southwest domestically. Everybody gets 2 free checked bags!
But even if bags are free, you might wait a long time at the carousel for your luggage during busy travel times (if it shows up!). I prefer to stick with a carry-on only!
If you’re visiting relatives, consider packing items in a carry-on that will get you by for a couple of days, and doing laundry at their house. And some hotels have coin-operated laundry facilities.
If you must check luggage, remember your cards may qualify you for a free checked bag! These cards include:
- American Express Gold Delta Skymiles – free checked bag for yourself and up to 8 companions on the same reservation on Delta
- Barclaycard Aviator Red (not available to new applicants) – free checked bag for yourself and up to 4 companions on the same reservation on American Airlines or US Airways
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® – free checked bag for yourself and up to 8 companions on the same reservation on American Airlines or US Airways
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® – free checked bag for yourself and up to 4 companions on the same reservation on American Airlines or US Airways
- Chase United MileagePlus Explorer – free checked bag for yourself and 1 companion on the same reservation on United Airlines (but you have to use the card to pay for your ticket)
And you’ll save on JetBlue bag fees by packing light or choosing the right type of fare.
4. Be Prepared
While it’s not ideal to over-pack (see above!), it’s always a good idea to anticipate the delays and cancellations that come with peak travel times.
Especially if you’re traveling with your family! Grown-ups can tolerate delays far more easily (usually!) than little ones.
For big and little kids alike, consider packing:
- Entertainment (tablets and laptops pre-loaded with movies are a money-saver!)
- Noise-cancelling headphones
- A travel pillow and / or blanket
- Snacks and treats (save money on in-flight and airport purchases)
- A battery charger for your electronics (lifesaver!)
- A water bottle to fill up after security (you’ll feel rotten if you get dehydrated!)
- A good book or magazines
If you’ve checked luggage, remember to bring medications, toiletries, and perhaps a quick change of clothes in your carry-on in case your bags (or you!) are delayed.
5. Perks Can Make Your Trip More Comfortable
If there’s any time to make the most of your credit card perks, holiday travel is it.
Instead of vying for seats at the departure gate, paying extra for Wi-Fi, or standing in line to buy a snack or beverage, you could relax in an airport lounge instead with complimentary lounge access from cards like:
- The AMEX Delta Reserve gets you into Delta SkyClubs
- All versions of the AMEX Platinum cards (the personal card, business card, or Mercedes-Benz card) offer access to Airspace Lounges, Centurion Lounges, Priority Pass Lounges, and Delta SkyClubs (when you’re flying Delta that day)
- Chase United MileagePlus Club Card includes United Airlines Club Lounge membership
- Citi AAdvantage Executive offers American Airlines Admirals Club membership – you do NOT have to be flying American Airlines to use it!
- Citi Prestige gets you into American Airlines Admirals Club Lounges (when you’re flying American Airlines the same day through July 23, 2017) and Priority Pass Lounges
Airport lounges generally offer free snacks, light meals, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, Wi-Fi, and a quiet, less hectic place to work or unwind.
Most cards which offer free lounge access allow you to bring a companion or your immediate family for free. And many lounges have a children’s area with books and toys to keep the wee ones occupied.
In the event of a delay, it might even be worth paying a 1-time fee to enter an airport lounge. Many lounges allow non-members to enter for a ~$50 charge. It could be worth paying for a relatively quiet spot, free food, and drinks.
Once you’re on-board your flight, remember some cards reimburse in-flight purchases like food, entertainment, and alcohol, like:
- The AMEX Platinum cards (the personal card, business card, or Mercedes-Benz card) offer up to $200 in statement credits per year for airline incidentals on your selected airline
- The Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express gets you $100 per calendar year in airline incidental fee credits on your selected airline
- The Citi Prestige has a $250 airline credit per calendar year (also includes airfare)
If you’ve got an AMEX Platinum card, you might be lucky enough to fly through an airport with a Centurion Lounge! You can get craft cocktails, a full meal, and even free spa treatments! Very civilized!
Thanksgiving is the busiest travel time of the year. But there are ways to make it less stressful!
Even if you weren’t able to book award travel in advance, there are still ways to get Big Travel with Small Money. Some airlines release last-minute award seats. Or you can use bank points (such as Chase Ultimate Rewards points) or statement credits to off-set the cost of paid airfare.
Avoid checking luggage if you can, and keep your carry-on stocked with supplies in the event of a long delay. And remember, your credit card might offer perks like lounge access or free checked bags to make the airport experience more pleasant!
Do you have Thanksgiving travel tips and tricks to share?