Air Travel Tips
Endless security lines, jet lag, and middle seats don't have to be necessary evils of flying—not if you follow T+L's best tips for smoother air travel.
Consider that security line: TSA's PreCheck expedited program will be in 100 domestic airports by the end of 2013, and there are three ways to join.
As for jet lag, your strategy should be to get on the right schedule while in transit, with some help from Stopjetlag.com. The site tailors a personalized hour-by-hour schedule for meals, rest time, and even sun exposure based on your itinerary.
Timing is also key when it comes to avoiding the middle. Ask for a new seat 24 hours before your flight; that's when airlines start upgrading their elite fliers, opening up the "preferred" seats in economy that were initially been assigned to those travelers.
Perhaps the ultimate air travel dilemma is when to buy your ticket in the first place. We asked Kayak.com to crunch the numbers to reveal when the average fares from the U.S. are at their lowest. Daydreaming about a Caribbean getaway? Procrastinators will be rewarded with an average low of $482 just one to two weeks out.
Read on for more expert air travel advice.
For the complete list of 100 ways to travel better, check out T+L's December issue and tablet editions.
Edited by Brooke Porter, Nikki Ekstein, Amy Farley, and Jennifer Flowers. With reporting by Peter Schlesinger and Bree Sposato.
Eavesdrop on the Airline Experts
Time Your Tickets
We asked Kayak to crunch the numbers to determine when the average airfares from the United States to regions around the world are at their lowest.
U.S.A.: 3–5 weeks out $351
Caribbean: 1–2 weeks out $482
Central America: 5–8 weeks out $622
South America: 5 ½ months out $953
Europe: 7–8 weeks out $1,041
Asia: 8–9 months out $1,313
Manage Your Itinerary
Best for Business: Worldmate ($9.99) integrates with your calendar and LinkedIn, making it easy to network while on the road.
Best for Families: The Seat Tracker from TripIt Pro ($49 per year) keeps tabs on cabin seat inventory and will alert you when elusive blocks of up to four seats open up.
Best for Road Warriors: The more trips you log using Traxo (free), the more perks from partner companies you receive: car-rental vouchers, free travel insurance, and even free flights.
Speed Through the Airport
TSA’s PreCheck expedited security program will be in 100 domestic airports by the end of the year. Here, three ways to join.
Sign up on the Go: The TSA’s new airport enrollment centers ($85 for five years) are currently in Washington Dulles and Indianapolis airports, and expanding to others soon.
Be a Trusted Traveler: Join through one of Customs & Border Patrol’s Trusted Traveler programs, such as the popular Global Entry ($100 for five years), which also speeds you through U.S. immigration lines.
Rely on Loyalty: Enroll through the frequent-flier program of one of TSA’s partner airlines. Note: if you choose this method you’re only eligible for flights on that carrier.
Beat Jet Lag
The trick is to get on the right schedule while in transit. Sign up for a personalized plan with the website Stopjetlag, which will give you an hour-by-hour schedule for meals, rest time, and even sunlight exposure, based on your travel itinerary.
Wait in Comfort in an Airport Lounge
Buy a Day Pass: All the legacy carriers sell them for their lounges both here and abroad for roughly $50.
Find an Independent Lounge: Airspace has a small network of lounges in domestic airports, which American Express Platinum card members can access for free. In Asia and Canada, look for spaces from Plaza Premium ($49 per visit); No. 1 Traveller ($45 per visit) and Servisair ($28 per visit) have lounges throughout the U.K. Services such as Lounge Pass (from $35 per visit) and Priority Pass ($27 per visit, plus $99 annually) partner with airlines and independent companies to offer access to locations worldwide.
Choose the Right Card: For an annual fee, some credit cards—including American Express Platinum ($450) and Chase’s United MileagePlus Club Card ($395)—offer complimentary access to both airline and independent lounges. American Express also recently opened the Centurion Lounge at Las Vegas McCarran and at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. Access is free for travelers with Centurion and Platinum Cards, and $50 for all other American Express cardholders.
Wear the Right Fabrics
Stay Warm: Cashmere wraps and sweaters are lightweight, but perfect for chilly planes.
Stretch Out: Lycra jeans move with you but maintain their shape. The best contain at least 10 percent Lycra.
Keep It Crisp: Look for wrinkle-free twill shirts and pants from brands such as L.L. Bean and Brooks Brothers.
Consider Comfort: Knit blazers are more pliable for ease of movement and less creasing.
Don’t Lose Your Luggage
Spy on Your Suitcase: Plant it with the palm-size Trakdot ($50, plus $13 annual fee). The small box automatically transmits its location using a GSM chip, allowing you to follow your bag’s route via SMS, e-mail, or the Trakdot app and website.
Pick the Right Carriers: The airline with the best record for luggage handling over the past two years? Virgin America, which averages just 0.88 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Following close behind: JetBlue (1.88) and AirTran (2.02). American Eagle, on the other hand, averaged 6 incidents per 1,000 passengers.
Ship Your Bags: Consider sending your bags straight to the hotel (or golf course, or cruise ship) through a service such as Luggage Forward or Luggage Free. Overnight delivery of a 25-pound bag from New York to L.A. will run about $150—more than your airline charges, but considerably less than UPS.
Find a Better Sandwich
The GateGuru app has detailed terminal maps and restaurant reviews for more than 100 airports around the world.
Get a Better Seat
Find the Best Plane: Not all aircraft are created equal. Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner features higher humidity and lower pressure (to minimize jet lag) and smart-glass windows that dim on command. The carriers flying the new aircraft: British Airways, LAN, and Japan Airlines. If cabin design is important, you can also look to SeatGuru and Routehappy, which both have flight-search functions that let you prioritize legroom, Wi-Fi connectivity, and seatback entertainment over, say, price and flight time.
Time Your Request: Ask for a new seat 24 hours before a flight. That’s when airlines start upgrading their elite fliers, opening up the “preferred” seats in economy that had previously been assigned to those travelers. Repeat your request at the check-in desk and gate.
Look Into Premium Economy: Though they won’t give you all the plush comforts of business class, these seats are often worth the extra money for the added four or five inches of legroom alone. International carriers have particularly nice premium economy seats.
Go Straight to Your Meeting
Tired of waiting around at the baggage carousel? US Airways, United, and American will now deliver your bags within 40 miles of a domestic airport within six hours of your flight’s arrival. The cost: $30 for one bag, $40 for two.
Tip Like a Pro
Worried you’ll get hit with excess weight charges on your luggage? Use a skycap at the curb and tip well—you may receive some leniency.