Remember the viral TikToks during the summer capturing endless airport lines, flight delays and cancellations, and rooms full of unsorted luggage? While these nightmare scenarios may not be the norm for potential travelers at the moment, the busy holiday season is upon us. And with that comes a new set of headaches, especially when you couple it with high fares and everyone swarming the airports at the same time. As stressful as it can be, the bright side is that we get to travel again, and even better, the list of places we can finally go to has grown. With all that in mind, there are actually several ways to keep your stress and costs to a minimum, according to the expert traveler behind The point guy, founder Brian Kelly. From the top destinations on everyone’s bucket list to how to score that coveted business class upgrade, Kelly has five tips to keep in mind before booking that next big trip.
Airfare is high, so embrace the technology
Back in the pre-Covid days, you could take advantage of a good sale, or maybe even a website error that got you an extremely cheap fare. Unfortunately, those days are long gone. With the rise in gas prices and the pent-up demand for travel, it’s pretty hard to find great deals, especially if you’re driving during peak travel times. Kelly recommends using Google Flights to track prices for specific dates and destinations. But if you’re more adventurous? “Consider using their Explore Map feature to search for cheap flights from your home airport if you’re flexible about where you’re going,” he says.
Keep track of your luggage
We’ve all seen the horror stories unfold, with luggage backed up at airports or outright lost. Kelly says things are better, but does not rule out the same scenario repeating itself again this fall and winter. “There are still problems due to staff shortages, especially in the main European airports such as those in Amsterdam and London Heathrow,” he warns. Although the best advice is to pack light and put everything in your carry-on, this may not be possible. If so, he suggests getting one AirTag so you know exactly where your bag is, even if it never reaches the plane.
Know where to go (or avoid)
Depending on whether you’re the type to jump on travel trends or want to avoid the crowds, Kelly has noticed several destinations emerging as top spots in the next few months. Domestically, cities such as New York, Orlando, Los Angeles and Seattle are popular, while internationally it is everywhere from Mexico (namely Cancun) to Dublin to Qatar and other Asian locations. “Doha is extra popular in November as it hosts the World Cup. And we suspect an increase in bookings to Asia, particularly Japan, which recently opened up, as well as Thailand,” he says.
Maybe wait for the big Asia trip
Speaking of going across the Pacific, says Kelly, while you may be eager to finally visit countries that have only just opened up to tourism, it’s probably better to give it a few more months. “Know the rules! There are still restrictions, such as vaccine booster requirements. I would recommend waiting a bit after a country reopens, hear how travel is going, and then plan your trip,” he advises.
Business Class upgrades are becoming rarer, but not impossible
Have you saved up all your credit card points in hopes of snagging a coveted seat at the front of the plane, lie-flat first class at no extra cost? Well, unfortunately those chances are getting slimmer – unless you’re willing to spend big. “It’s been a tough summer for loyalty program redemptions as travel has rebounded and business class award space has either been unavailable or incredibly expensive,” says Kelly. However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible and you can utilize your frequent flyer miles. The easiest way is to offer an upgrade, as many airlines let you do it when you check in. Another way to score a spot? Sometimes it pays to be nice and ask for what is called an operational upgrade. “This is when airlines oversell economy tickets, so they will push passengers to business or first class,” explains Kelly.
If you’re set on gaming the system and getting the most out of your points, flexibility and waiting until mid-2023 for the big holiday will be your best bet. “Most airlines open their booking calendars 330 days out. Searching now for next summer’s redemptions will likely get you some of the cheapest fares,” says Kelly. To really make every precious credit card point count, you can also check TPG, which alerts readers when the likes of Amex or Chase offer transfer bonuses for airline loyalty programs. This can significantly reduce the cost of redemption. Finally, if you prefer to buy the smart tickets outright, a tool such as ExpertFlyerwhich is owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures, will alert you when discounted award space opens up.