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10 holiday travel hacks to save time and money at the airport

Photo of Kristin Scharkey
Follow our travel hacks for a bit more peace of mind this holiday season.

Follow our travel hacks for a bit more peace of mind this holiday season.

Visionkick/Getty Images/iStockphoto

If you’re reading this, you're probably gearing up to board a holiday flight or take a Christmas road trip. So you may be wondering how to save a few bucks this holiday season, not to mention lower your stress while you're on the road or in the air.

The good news is you’re already saving time (count ’em, 19 months) with the extension of the Real ID deadline, so now it’s about those smaller hacks that can really make a difference. We’ve rounded up the best holiday travel deals, from rental car discounts to cheap hotels, plus other tips and tricks for saving time and money — so you can spend more of your energy being merry.

1. Don’t fly on the wrong day

Calling all last-minute planners who are just now booking their holiday flights: Sure, you could have saved some extra cash if you'd planned ahead, but you can still be smart about which days you fly later this month. We reached out to both Expedia and Kayak to find out about which days are the most (and least) expensive to travel for the holidays. You can learn more about when to fly around Christmas when you read our guide to finding cheap flights

2. Use flexible fare calendars

Expedia spokesperson Melanie Fish recommends playing around with flexible fare calendars for both your departure and return. As you’re monitoring flight deals, you can also subscribe to price alerts on the Expedia app "so you can snag the best price,” Fish said. Kayak, too, offers price alerts and forecasts, plus an Explore tool that allows you to set your own budget and check out options within that range.

3. Buy a flight now, pay later

Instead of dishing out for your trip up front, Expedia’s new partnership with Afterpay allows you to make biweekly payments on your airfare without incurring interest. Using “buy now, pay later” platforms can “reduce your travel costs by splitting the payments over time while on a budget,” money coach and Afterpay ambassador Lea Landaverde said in a press release. “Just don’t forget to account for the future payments in your budget after the holidays!” 

4. Save on hotels and rental cars

With sky-high flight prices, one of the easiest ways to save is on your hotel or rental car. We’ve got our eye on last-minute holiday travel deals like 15% off "late escape" hotels on Booking.com. Priceline’s “Season of Savings” features discounts up to $50 on select hotel and rental car deals when using the code TISTHESEASON through Dec. 12. Check out our guide to the latest holiday travel deals.


5. Get help with lost luggage

If you’ve ever arrived at an airport and discovered your luggage had been lost in transit, you know it’s not a feeling you want to feel again. If (knock on wood) that happens to you this holiday season, one company wants to come to the rescue. Stitch Fix, known for its personalized boxes of clothing and accessories, is now offering Travel Style Insurance (whether you’re a member or not). The company will send a limited number of $500 promo codes or free expedited boxes of clothes to folks whose luggage goes missing. To apply, send a copy of your lost baggage form to Travel-Style-Insurance@stitchfix.com through December.

And if you're worried about lost luggage, you can always purchase a pack of Apple AirTags to track your suitcases.


6. Sign up for TSA PreCheck … but not at the airport

TikTok user sonomackenzie amassed tens of thousands of likes on a time-saving tutorial about signing up for TSA PreCheck at Staples, and it’s true: I just booked my own slot this week at the office supply company, which offers appointments or walk-ins at participating stores. You can search for eligible locations in your ZIP code and start enrollment here; it’ll cost you $78 to avoid removing your shoes, laptops and more during security screenings for five years.

7. Sweep through security

Did you know there's a way to cut to the front of the airport security line? Right now, Kayak is offering a free three-month trial of the CLEAR Plus membership, which is “a faster way to verify your identity so you don’t have to wait in crowded lines to have your ID checked,” according to the website. (It’s different from TSA PreCheck, which “expedites the physical screening process,” the team adds.) "Members use CLEAR's network of dedicated lanes to verify their identity with their eyes or fingers, replacing the need to take out their wallet and driver's license," the team explained in a recent press release announcing a partnership with Boise Airport. Nab the trial for the holiday season; the annual fee is $189. 


8. Reserve your spot at TSA

There’s another way to avoid the line if you don’t want to purchase TSA PreCheck or CLEAR Plus. CLEAR is also behind free reservation systems available at a number of airports that allows you to book an arrival time at a specific screening area. At Los Angeles International Airport, for example, the program puts you in a "fast lane" at select security checkpoints. 

9. Get a COVID test on your layover

Airport wellness brand Treat is now operating boutique health centers in New York City, Phoenix and Salt Lake City, where you can book appointments for everything from COVID tests to IVs as well as massage treatments, among others. It’s all from the New York-based company XWELL, which is also behind airport spa brand XpresSpa. If you’re going to be sitting in a terminal, might as well be productive, right? Just think: An airport massage might be the perfect way to settle your nerves before the inevitable family discussion about your dating life. 

10. Snag a deal on storage

If you just got your luggage out of storage and can’t find your packing cubes, Amazon has plenty of holiday deals on solutions, from suitcases and backpacks to cross-body bags, passport holders and more. For example, a popular luluemon Everywhere Belt Bag dupe is nearly 50% off right now, hovering at just over $20 for a stylish accessory to hold your ID, cash and chapstick. 

Here are a few of our top picks: