With the busiest travel time of the year fast approaching, making the most of your miles, points, and credit card perks can ensure your Thanksgiving trip this year is less stressful (and more civilized!).
The following tips from travel and rewards experts Daraius Dubash and Emily Jablon, founders of Million Mile Secrets, will help to negotiate the crowds, delays, and well-meaning relatives on your Thanksgiving adventure:
1. Last Minute Bookings
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Stay on top of delays and departure times by checking the airline website or mobile app. Or check here to monitor your flight status:
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:
- American Express Platinum (personal) - Choose between Global Entry and TSA PreCheck
- American Express Platinum (business) - Choose between Global Entry and TSA PreCheck
- American Express Mercedes-Benz Platinum - 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
Try 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
- Barclays 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 - free checked bag for yourself and up to 8 companions on the same reservation on American Airlines or US Airways
- Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage World 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.)
Remember, there are lots of cards which reimburse airline fees or offer discounts for in-flight purchases. And you'll save on JetBlue bag fees by packing light or choosing the right type of fare.
4. 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 Club 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) 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 one-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.
Be sure to visit www.millionmilesecrets.com for more travel tips.