Most air travelers sailed through the busy Thanksgiving week with few hiccups. Airlines reported their best Thanksgiving performance ever. That’s partly because travelers, airlines and airports have the holiday travel drill down pat these days.
But it’s mostly because the U.S. enjoyed fine weather on the weekends before and after the big feast.
Since Thanksgiving is primarily a driving holiday, with about 90 percent of all trips by car, the biggest bottlenecks were on the roads. But for the most part everyone made it across the state or across the country safe and sound.
Looking forward to the longer Christmas/New Years period, we can expect much of the same if the weather holds out. But watch out if there are winter storms on the horizon. It could get messy out there.
Why? Because with both Christmas and New Year’s Day falling on Mondays this year, the holiday season will be relatively compact, starting in earnest on Friday December 22 and ending on Wednesday, January 3.
Some news and advice:
Demand is up. Advance bookings for the holiday season (Nov 15-Jan 15) are up 4.8 percent compared to the same time last year at Best Western’s 2,000+ hotels in the U.S. The number of nights booked is up 11 percent, which means those who are traveling are planning to stay longer. Also, bookings at hotels along freeways in the U.S. are up 13.3 percent, which is indicative of the higher number of travelers on the road this year. In Canada, advance bookings are up 8.9 percent and the number of nights booked is up 18.3 percent. Also, lower airfares will help push up demand for holiday trips.
Keep an eye on the weather. Now that travelers and airlines have the holiday travel drill down, only Mother Nature can stand in the way of a smooth season. Be sure to sign up for flight alerts from your airline, and double check with sites like FlightAware or FlightRadar24. On the day of your flight, check in with the FAA’s map of airport delays and remember that a delay in a stormy city could affect your flight even if it’s sunny and warm outside. Thankfully, airlines have become a lot better and more liberal with change fee waivers when bad weather beckons.
Watch gasoline prices. This year’s hurricanes affected oil production and pushed up Thanksgiving gas prices to a three-year high of about $2.53 per gallon on average—that’s about 50 cents more than last year. All eyes are now on OPEC, which holds its annual meeting this month. Decisions made there will impact oil prices for the holidays and into the next year. As usual, if you are driving in the southeastern U.S. this year, you’ll enjoy the lowest gas prices—as low as 2.22 per gallon in Alabama. You’ll pay the most out west, with the average price per gallon well over $3 in California according to GasBuddy.com.
Avoid traffic: During the busy holiday season, avoid surprise traffic jams by driving late at night or very early in the morning. Midday traffic in and around cities and malls, and on nearby freeways can be stifling. Expect the unexpected when it comes to traffic on the weekend before Christmas, and again late on New Year’s Day. Use traffic apps like Waze to help steer around the worst of it.
Consider a hotel for the holidays. During the stressful holiday travel season, everyone needs his or her own space every now and then, right? Well, instead of risking a bad night’s sleep on a lumpy sofa bed or stuffy guest room, rent a nearby hotel room instead. Since business travelers stay home during the holidays, you’ll find deep discounts on hotels in downtown areas and near suburban office parks. Stay at a Best Western® Hotels & Resorts location this winter, and you’ll get $10 off that already low rate– Here’s how.
Beware of airport traffic snarls: Many airports in the U.S. are under various phases of construction, which means you should always allow a big cushion of time for getting stuck on airport roadways. Some of the busiest airports with construction on or near roads include New York La Guardia (where people reportedly got out of cars stuck in traffic and walked to terminals over Thanksgiving), Atlanta (curvaceous new canopies over drop-off areas coming soon), San Francisco (multi-billion dollar Terminal 1 construction) and Los Angeles LAX (always under construction).
Pay a little, get a lot. This is the time of year when it’s a good idea to pay a little more to ensure a much better experience. For example, you might want to spring for premium economy for more space and early boarding. Consider waiting out a long delay at an airline lounge- many offer day passes for $50-$60. Take a car service to or from the airport instead of fight traffic, parking in far away lots, or asking relatives to pick you up. Or, as mentioned above, get a great deal on a hotel for some peace of mind and personal space.
Book nonstop flights and know your rights. While you might save a few dollars by booking a one-stop flight instead of a nonstop, don’t forget that you are doubling your chances of encountering a delay or cancellation. Why risk ruining a holiday trip? Also, if your flight does get cancelled, the airline cannot find suitable alternatives, and you decide not to take the trip at all, the airline must offer you a cash refund. Ask for it!
Don’t discount the dead weeks. If you have the flexibility to travel during the slowest times of year, the so-called “dead weeks” of early December and early January, you can save 50-70 percent on airfare or hotels. Some ski resorts will discount lift tickets during dead weeks. It’s also a good idea to check out airline or hotel social media streams on sites like Twitter or Facebook to look for short term, last minute sales. And if you have a big pile of Best Western Rewards points stashed away, use them this winter when you can redeem just 10,000 points for a stay at any Best Western location in North America now through January 31. More details on how to do that here.
Book business trips in January: Early January through the early March is a great time to find excellent last-minute deals. Exceptions to this would be long weekends like Martin Luther King (Jan 13-15, 2018) Valentines/Presidents Day (Feb 14-19, 2018). If you are between jobs, retired with no kids in school and have the flexibility to travel during these weeks, you’ll see jaw dropping low prices. Hotel prices have become extremely expensive in big cities like New York and San Francisco this year, but you’ll find some good deals if you go during January. (See New York Hotel Week for some good ideas.) If you’ve been priced out of these cities, January would be a great time for cost-conscious business travelers to set up meetings with prospects and clients.
Prepare for a crazy busy spring break. Late March is usually the busiest time of year for collegiate Spring break, and April is more popular with families traveling around Easter. But in 2018, Easter is early (April 1) so the last week in March will be crazy with both family and collegiate spring breakers hitting the roads and skies and bumping up airfares, hotels and rental car rates. It is probably a good time for business travelers to avoid trips if they can.