Though fall has just begun, it’s not too early to start thinking about your holiday travel plans.
In preparation for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s Eve and any other holiday travel, there are some timely to-do items, such as booking your flights and renewing your passport.
Book your flights by October
If you haven’t already, you should book your flights by next month at the very latest.
For the winter holidays, the best time to book your flights is typically in September and early October, per booking app Hopper, which says that flights could be at least $100 cheaper during that time.
According to an analysis of 11,000 travel itineraries examining the best months to book holiday flights, CheapAir notes that Thanksgiving airfares are up by 12% and Christmas flights are up 11%, compared to 2022 prices.
“While holiday travel days are more accommodating this year, airfare is still on the rise, so it is in travelers’ best interest to plan ahead and book early,” according to CheapAir.com, which analyzes airfare data.
Similarly, Google’s 2023 flight booking trends report suggests that average flight prices around Christmas are lowest 71 days before departure.
Seeing as it’s late September, consider booking your flights now if you still need to do so.
Renew your passport
If you are venturing abroad this Thanksgiving or Christmas, or you’re cheers-ing to 2024 outside of the U.S., you have hopefully already ensured your passport is not about to expire.
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Routine passport processing times are currently 10 to 13 weeks, with seven to nine weeks for expedited service plus an additional two weeks for processing and mailing.
Processing times have remained the same since July, and the State Department does not expect them to improve this year.
The State Department advises travelers to renew at least six months before planned travel, which is also important since most countries require visitors’ passports to be valid for six months at the time of travel. Be sure to check the requirements of each specific country since some require validity to be six months from the date of entry and some six months from the date of intended departure.
For urgent international travel, you can attempt to make a limited in-person appointment for two circumstances:
- For emergency circumstances — such as a death — requiring travel within 72 hours or three business days, you must provide proof of a qualifying incident.
- For non-emergency travel within 14 days, or if you need a foreign visa within 28 calendar days, you must provide proof of travel.
Monitor the State Department’s website with the latest passport processing times for travelers.
Enroll in an expedited security program
Whether or not you are flying for the holidays this year, you should enroll in TSA PreCheck and Clear, both of which help travelers speed through TSA security. TSA PreCheck allows users to pass through security using a dedicated line, in which they do not have to remove their shoes, laptop, liquids, belt or light jacket like passengers in the regular TSA line.
Like TSA PreCheck, Clear users also begin the security process in a Clear-only lane, where users are biometrically identified via fingerprint or iris scans, sparing them from showing their ID anytime during security screening. Users are then taken to the front of the line for the security screening machines — either the front of the PreCheck screening line for those with Clear and PreCheck or the front of the normal TSA screening line.
A third program to consider is Global Entry, which is most helpful for frequent international travelers as it allows preapproved, low-risk travelers expedited clearance upon arrival to the U.S. from abroad. Global Entry users can enter the country through automated kiosks at more than 50 airports.
Enrollment in the three programs costs money, including an annual fee for Clear. Memberships to TSA PreCheck and Global Entry last five years each.
While these programs may be worth their retail price tags in their own right, some credit cards, airline and hotel elite status levels and frequent flyer memberships offer these programs for free or at a discounted rate.
Ship your presents in advance
You can technically carry wrapped presents through security at airports. However, as TPG travel director Summer Hull wrote, it’s risky should the U.S. Transportation Security Administration agents decide to inspect what’s under the hours and hours of wrapping effort.
Instead, consider shipping your presents and other large items to your relatives’ homes or wherever you will be staying. Do so well before you leave in case of mailing delays.
Traveling during the holidays can be stressful, with family dynamics and larger-than-usual airport crowds, but you can take steps to make it a little more bearable.
Enrolling in helpful tools like expedited security programs, submitting your passport for renewal at least six months ahead of travel and booking your flights and shipping your presents well in advance can ease the holiday travel experience.