Experts have been saying that this Thanksgiving is going to kick off one of the busiest holiday travel periods in recent history—and the crowds are already proving it. The Transportation Security Administration reported that more than 2.2 million travelers passed through airports in the United States on Friday—a record. It was the most people the TSA has screened in a single day since the start of the pandemic. Travel sites are also seeing the same kind of traffic: Tripit is experiencing nearly triple the volume of last year, with flight bookings up 298%, hotels up 258%, vacation rentals up 175% and car rentals up 390%.
From travel insurance to advice on the airlines to the best travel deals, here’s what you need to know, whether you’re traveling over the coming week or anytime during the holiday travel season:
Arrive at the airport early. A third of all Thanksgiving travelers will be taking to the skies on Tuesday and Wednesday, so expect lines at airports. “Arriving at the airport two hours early is usually the gold standard, but this year I would recommend two and a half hours if possible,” says Jen Moyse, senior director of Product at TripIt. According to Tripit, some of the busiest airports will be San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Denver International Airport (DEN), Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) and Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD).
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Be aware of COVID-19 protocols. It is the law that people must wear a mask in airports and on planes or any other type of public transportation in the U.S.—but that’s not the only place you’ll need it. “Be sure to keep a mask on hand when visiting hotel common spaces like the front lobby or dining area, and bring your vaccine card or negative COVID test results with you when out and about (tucked away safely) in case somewhere you hope to visit requires one,” says Moyse.
Pack light. If possible, carry your bags on the plane, since checking luggage can add time (and expense). Another advantage: You won’t have to wait for luggage when you land, so your vacation can start right away.
Think about travel insurance. Is it too late to get travel insurance to cover delays or trip interruptions? “The simple answer is you can technically get travel insurance the day before (even the day of) your trip, however, your coverage options will be very limited,” says Meghan Kayata, a spokesperson for InsureMyTrip. “You can put in your trip info on InsureMyTrip.com and see what options there are available. Our customer care call center is also available for those who would like to be walked through the options.” A note: For future trips, it’s a good idea to get a travel insurance policy as soon as you put any kind of money down to get the most options, like Cancel for Any Reason insurance.
Covid insurance: Speaking of travel insurance, if you’re traveling internationally, you’ll need to get a Covid test to return to the United States. It’s a good idea to get Covid insurance, even if the destination doesn’t require it. You’d hate to get stuck somewhere and have to pay a ton of money out of pocket for hotels and more.
Confirm your rental car. There’s been a massive rental car shortage that has already impacted many plans this year—and it’s only going to get worse. “With reservations up 390% from 2020, it’s worth calling ahead and triple confirming your reservation,” says Moyse. Another tip: Check with your provider to learn the quickest and easiest way to get your car when you arrive. “And don’t forget to keep them in the loop if your flight plans change,” says Moyse.
Plan your drive wisely: Expect traffic delays. According to transportation analytics company INRIX, road travel will be about 40% higher than normal over the holiday. Drivers should plan for traffic if they’re leaving on Wednesday—which will be the busiest day of the Thanksgiving travel season. Leave after 9 p.m., if you can. Or a better bet: drive on Thanksgiving Day before 11 a.m. If you’re returning on Saturday or Sunday, leave before noon.
Get Your Car Ready: According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 24% of all accidents are weather-related, so as you head into the holiday travel season, it’s a good idea to make sure your car is weather-proofed. Check your windshield wipers to ensure optimum visibility in the event of inclement conditions and consider getting a portable jump starter like the Michelin High-Capacity Jump Starter and Power Bank.
Book your next trip now. If you’re a procrastinator, there’s good news and bad news. The good news? “We’re currently seeing more last-minute deals on cheap flights than ever before,” says Willis Orlando of Scott’s Cheap Flights. “The bad news? This golden opportunity for last-minute deals probably won’t last much longer.” So where to go? “Demand to hot leisure destinations like Miami and Las Vegas is back with a vengeance, whereas business-heavy destinations like San Francisco have been slower to bounce back,” says Orlando. If you’re traveling abroad or to one of these business-heavy domestic destinations, Orlando predicts that you can expect to see a couple more months of last-minute deals, as demand creeps back to normal.
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