NEW YORK Silver bells, sleigh rides, menorahs and mistletoe are on the not-so-distant horizon.
But before the festivities get underway, there are flights to catch, security lines to endure and delays to tolerate. With that in mind, online travel adviser Cheapflights.com (www.cheapflights.com ) have come up with 10 top holiday travel tips to help you navigate the festive season. Reuters has not endorsed this list:
1. For procrastinators: Book last-minute
Typically we encourage travelers to book flights between 60 and 90 days before an anticipated date of departure. That ideal time-frame has now passed, leaving many fliers scrambling to find holiday fare deals. But all is not lost! Data shows that airlines this year were perhaps a bit too aggressive with pricing early on, leaving seats still to be filled. Lucky for procrastinators, flash sales are popping up left and right and - better yet - the best is possibly yet to come. Start scanning now, as early December bookers could save the most on holiday flights.
2. Travel alternatively
As ongoing advocates of both alternative airports and alternative destinations, our stance holds true with the season of cheer upon us. For fliers with a set destination in mind, taking the time to compare nearby airports based on affordability could mean major savings. Boston residents, for instance, should consider TF Green International in Providence or Manchester-Boston Regional in New Hampshire if fares out of Logan are too steep. And the same is true for arrival cities. Folks eager to get away for a beach vacation should look for the deal rather than the destination. Instead of Miami this Christmas, how about a beach town on the Gulf like Fort Meyers or Sarasota? The bottom line: do your homework.
3. Fly on the holiday
Flight searches by date often tell an interesting but consistent story: flying midweek, early in the day or late at night saves travelers cash. 'Tis true on holidays, too. Many times the lowest fares go to travelers willing to fly on the holiday itself, whether it's Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year's Eve. Plus, the cheer can be felt 35,000 feet in the air for flexible fliers, as some airlines are particularly festive. Lufthansa in Christmases past has cooked traditional German meals and decked cabins with wreaths and decorations so passengers - and flight crews - can share in the celebration.
4. For gift givers: Shop online
In an era of ever-increasing baggage fees, it's best to show up to the airport with as little to check in as possible. Lucky for those with long wish lists, nearly everything nowadays can be found - and shipped - thanks to the glorious Internet. Evidence? Our recent list of travel gift ideas, all of which are available courtesy of the web. Order a Big Wheel-luggage hybrid for the junior traveler in your life or an airline gift card for your favorite frequent flier. No matter the choice, it means less to get through security and less on your credit card.
5. Ship gifts
If you've found a gift at a great rate or a specialty item during your holiday shopping sprees, then of course seize the deal. But if it doesn't fit in your carry-on, you may want to ship it via a courier company. Do the math a week before to see what will cost you less: a tracked package or an extra bag. If it's the latter, remember to leave your gifts unwrapped so security can easily access the contents.
6. Pack an empty suitcase
If the price is right, bringing an extra piece of luggage on your trip can be a frugal decision. Then, when it comes time to transport the gifts you've received home, you'll have an empty suitcase to fill. Either pack a fold-up duffel in your luggage or bring a separate bag if it means you won't get hit with high-priced baggage fees. First calculate what it will cost to ship your gifts home, then plan and pack accordingly.
7. Peruse duty-free
International fliers over the holidays have the opportunity to savor their layovers a bit in the duty-free shops, where high-end products go for everyday prices in airports around the globe. Hubs like Hong Kong International Airport, Amsterdam Airport Schipol and London Heathrow Airport offer shoppers a bounty of stocking stuffers and goodies for under the tree. Shop on your way - or way home - tax-free. A friendly reminder: If you're connecting Stateside from certain international locations, liquids purchased at duty-free have to be checked before the domestic leg of your flight.
8. For air mile collectors: Save the miles
Miles get tricky around the holidays, especially since "low points" seats for the most popular travel dates sell out even before the Halloween candy has hit the shelves. There's that, plus some airlines implement the never-popular blackout dates. Accumulated miles, whether through an airline or a credit card, are used most economically either when travel plans are booked early or a traveler has flexibility with their itinerary. Our advice: Save the points during the holidays unless you snag a great deal.
9. Health: Invest in hand sanitizer
The most wonderful time of the year is also the most sniffly time of the year for many travelers. Keep that in mind before you head for the airport, and pack plenty of hand sanitizer to help fend off germs. There's nothing worse than realizing during ascent that you're stuck in a cabin full of recycled air with a sickly seatmate. Fill your prescriptions, drink lots of water, wash your hands often - whatever it takes to guarantee your holidays will be spent both joy- and health-filled.
10. Plan ahead and expect delays
Flight delays are pretty much a guarantee this time of year, whether its crowded airports, bad weather or mechanical problems causing them. There's a way to plan ahead so that getting stuck behind infrequent fliers and families of five at airport security doesn't cause anxiety. First, avoid connections if you can when booking, even if it means paying a little more. If a connection is a must, then ensure there's a long enough layover in case your first flight is late to land. On the day of travel, get to the airport earlier - way earlier - than you typically would. Worst-case scenario: You spend extra time with your Kindle at the departure gate or relaxing at the airport bar.
(Editing by Paul Casciato)