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6 Money-Saving Thanksgiving Travel Tips

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
January 12, 2022
Airport runway planes
Ken Cole/Dreamstime
​Here’s how to spend less time and money getting to your Thanksgiving destination and more time enjoying your time off.

Sure, the week of Thanksgiving is one of the most hectic travel periods of the year, with tens of millions of people expected to fly between November 16 and 27. But that doesn’t mean Turkey Day has to break the bank. Here, our best-ever money-saving tips.

1. THE BEST DAYS TO TRAVEL FOR THANKSGIVING

To save money and hassle this year, travel November 16 through 20 or on Thanksgiving Day itself. For the return trip, hold off till Monday November 26 or try Black Friday, when so many people are busy shopping.

2. IS IT TOO LATE TO GET A DEAL ON AIRFARE?

Sure, it’s late to buy Thanksgiving airline tickets, but look for last-minute deals with our friends at Skyscanner.com and be flexible with your dates and airports. Coast-to-coast flights for under $500 are still out there.

3. ARE SUPER-LOW-COST AIRLINES REALLY A GOOD DEAL?

If that $30 last-minute flight to Grandma’s house seems too good to be true, I promise it probably isn’t true: It is a rock-bottom basic fare and you will be charged extra for everything from choice of seat (really) to checked bags (of course) and maybe even for your carry-on bag. It doesn’t mean you shouldn't book a super-low-cost flight, it just means you must read the terms and conditions and know what you’re getting into before you hit “purchase.”

4. TREAT YOURSELF TO A HOTEL FOR THANKSGIVING

Surprise! In survey after survey, up to 7 out of 10 travelers admit they really don’t like staying with relatives for Thanksgiving (but surveys also suggest most people suck it up, stay with relatives, and pretend to enjoy it). The good news is, hotels are often underbooked around Thanksgiving and you can find deals even at the last minute. Hotels that cater to business travelers - such as suites and airport hotels - are especially affordable on holiday (and non-holiday) weekends.

5. BEAT HOLIDAY TRAFFIC BY DRIVING AT NIGHT

Glamorous? Nope. Tried and true? Yup. You’ll hit less traffic if you hit the road after dark, let the kids sleep, and catch a nap before your turkey dinner.

6. PSST! HERE'S A NATIVE NEW YORKER'S SECRET FOR VISITING THE MACY'S PARADE

This tip is based on my personal experience as a native New Yorker: If you’re traveling to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, take public transportation or park your car on the far West Side of Manhattan and head for Central Park West below 77th Street, where the parade starts out with its high energy, giant balloons, marching bands, and iconic views of the park.

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Travel Tips

Travel 101: Best Credit Cards for Travelers

Part of being a savvy traveler is making sure you have the right credit card to maximize your travel rewards. Of course, there are a ton of travel credit cards for you to choose from. So, what’s the best piece of plastic for you? Ultimately, it boils down to your travel behaviors—and marrying how you spend money traveling with a credit card’s rewards program. “I always recommend having a redemption goal in mind before you set off to earn points and miles,” says Zach Honig, editor-at-large at The Points Guy. “Those 100,000 Alaska miles you racked up with credit card sign-up bonuses won’t do you much good if you don’t plan to fly Alaska or any of its partners.” If you’re eyeing an airline rewards card, “make sure the miles you’ll earn can get you where you need to go,” Honig says. Likewise, if you’re focused on earning hotel points, “make sure there’s actually a participating property at your intended destination,” Honig advises. International travelers should look for a credit card with no foreign transaction fees, says Bill Hardekopf, a credit expert at LowCards.com. Why? Because some cards charge up to a 3% fee on foreign transactions, which can effectively negate whatever rewards points, dollars, or miles you’d earn using the card. Granted, a travel rewards credit card isn’t right for everyone. For one thing, rewards credit cards typically have higher interest rates than non-rewards cards. Consequently, “you shouldn’t have a rewards card unless you’re going to pay off the balance each month,” Hardekopf says. Also, because some rewards cards have high annual fees (like the Visa Black Card, with its whopping $495 annual fee), having one may not make sense for infrequent travelers. That being said, many consumers can save big bucks with a travel rewards credit card—that is, assuming you remember to redeem your rewards. (A recent Bankrate.com report found that three in 10 credit cardholders have never redeemed their credit card rewards.) Still, it begs the question: what are the best credit cards for travelers? Focusing on credit cards with not only generous rewards but also low fees and convenient redemption options, we spoke to Honig and Hardekopf for their top recommendations. One of these five cards could be a great addition to your wallet. Chase Sapphire Preferred card: If you’re looking for a credit card that earns points that you can transfer to hotel and airline partners with ease, this is the card for you, Honig says. If you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months, you’ll earn a 50,000-point sign-up bonus that will get you two free round-trip domestic flights or multiple nights at a high-end hotel. In addition, the card offers rental car insurance and has no foreign transaction fees. The card, however, has a $95 annual fee after the first year. Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard: This rewards card has been around for a while, but it’s still one of the best rewards cards for airline miles, Hardekopf says. The card has a nice sign-up bonus of 40,000 miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days—enough to redeem a $400 credit toward an eligible travel purchase. You earn 2 miles on all purchases (a solid payout compared to other miles rewards cards) and get 5% of your miles back every time you redeem them. The card has no foreign transaction fees, but there is an $89 annual fee after the first year. Citi ThankYou Premier card: You earn 3 points on travel for a range of expenses, including gas, airfare, hotels, cruises, car rental agencies, travel agencies, railways, public transportation, tolls, taxis, and parking. (Translation: there are plenty of opportunities to accrue points with this card.) This is also a great all-around rewards card, says Honig, since you earn 2 points on restaurants and entertainment and 1 point on all other purchases. It has a $95 annual fee after the first year. United MileagePlus Explorer card: If you’re looking for an airline carrier-specific credit card, this one earns top marks, Honig says. Similar to the Barclaycard, you earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 90 days. You earn 2 miles per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases. You also get nice perks, such as priority boarding and one free checked bag for you and a companion traveling on your reservation. The card has a $95 annual fee after the first year but no foreign transaction fees. Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card: LowCards.com rated this card 5 out of 5 stars for several reasons. First, you can get a one-time bonus of 20,000 miles if you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months. You also earn unlimited 1.25 miles per $1 spent on all purchases. The best part? Redeeming your rewards is a piece of cake. “You can fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime,” Hardekopf says. And, unlike the other cards on this list, this card has no annual fee. 

Travel Tips

5 Mishaps That Made Me a Better Traveler

My best-laid plans went awry. And I'm glad. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating just a little. But I can tell you that, this past July, I was forced to face some of my most nagging travel fears (what if… I miss my connection, my flight is canceled, my bank card stops working, my kid gets sick…) when all of them actually came true. Here, a few minor and not-so-minor disasters that made me a better traveler. 1. My bank card stopped working Yup. I tried to pay for lunch at a Boston Market in Oakland (long story, don’t judge), and the cheerful young woman behind the counter announced, “Oh, sorry, your card is invalid.” What I learned: I should have told my bank back in New York that I was going to be traveling in California. It turned out the bank blocked my California transaction as suspicious, but was easily able to unblock it. And I got to eat those delicious Boston Market mashed potatoes. 2. I was told I couldn't rent a car using a debit card Huh? I had plenty of hard-earned (and carefully saved) money in my checking account, yet I was being told I could not use my debit card to rent a car. What I learned: The dude at the rental counter was basically, um, lying. Or at least exaggerating to an unforgivable extent. Most rental car agencies (including the one we were using) will rent you a car using a debit card, but they first put a hold on the estimated rental total (days rented, distance you plan to cover), and may ask to see your flight itinerary to confirm that you’re actually taking the car where you say you are taking it. The process is a bit of a hassle for travelers and agency employees alike, which is why, I suppose, that dude flat-out lied to my face until pressed to tell the truth. 3. I missed a flight connection Sorry, but I hate layovers and connecting flights, mostly for the same reason you may hate them: My fear of a missed connection. I always imagined the missed connection leading to disaster, sleeping on an airport floor, sustained only by expensive airport food. What I learned: It turns out, at least in our case, dealing with our missed connection was as easy as stepping up to a friendly gate agent who re-ticketed us on the next available flight. (Psst: We were lucky enough to be flying Southwest, which deals with this kind of thing exceptionally well.) 4. My flight got canceled This one was not quite as easy to handle as the missed connection I just mentioned. We boarded a flight, the plane began taxiing toward takeoff, then the pilot slowed us down, stopped, and announced there was a mechanical problem and we’d have to get off the plane. Of course, I appreciated the pilot’s unwillingness to take to the skies with a broken plane, but I also knew the chaos that a cancelled or long-delayed flight would cause for every passenger onboard, and that our chances of making it home that day were fading with the afternoon sun. What I learned: Long story short, we walked away with $800 in vouchers for future flights on that airline. Our secret weapons were chocolate and patience (I know, Chocolate & Patience sounds like the name of a long-lost Noel Coward play). After an hourlong wait on a seemingly endless line to get re-ticketed, my wife offered the gate agent a chocolate bar. The agent smiled wearily and said, “Can you tell how much I needed this?” Although we did miss any chance of getting home that day, we were booked on a flight for the next morning and took home not only our happy memories of a vacation in Southern California but also those much-appreciated vouchers. 5. My child got sick an hour before boarding I know I risk sounding churlish when I admit that I really like flying alone, and the more traveling companions I have, the greater my anxiety. That goes for flying with my kids especially. It’s not that I don’t enjoy traveling with them, it’s that my tendency to catastrophize travel mishaps is perhaps at its most pronounced when it comes to the safety and happiness of my children. So, when one of my daughters admitted that she wasn’t feeling at all well shortly before we were scheduled to board a transcontinental flight, I panicked. My wife, however, remained calm and approached a gate agent, asking (politely) for any special accommodations to ease our child’s situation. What I learned: Telling airline professionals what’s wrong and asking for help is not the same as being a “doting parent,” (parents: please read the previous sentence aloud several times) and it is far better than keeping it to yourself. We were given “pre-boarding” privileges that allowed my child to get comfortably situated for a sleep-filled flight. Has a travel mishap ever taught you a valuable lesson? Share it in a comment below.

Travel Tips

Emotional Support Animals Take to the Skies

Can flying with your pet ease anxiety? As any nervous flyer knows, there are a few tried-and-true methods for dealing with pre-trip panic—and no, self-medicating at the airport bar probably isn’t the best strategy. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends a list of concrete steps to overcome a fear of flying, skills learned in cognitive behavioral therapy can help manage anxiety, and prescription meds can be a lifesaver, but there’s an additional option to consider, and it’s a warm, fuzzy one. Thanks to a 2003 update to the Department of Transportation’s policy regarding service animals, pets that offer emotional support to people with disabilities are cleared for takeoff, and more travelers than ever are looking to furry friends for in-flight comfort and support. Though airline policies differ, all emotional support animals (ESAs) must be well-behaved (pigs that defecate in the aisles are decidedly unwelcome) and accompanied by recent documentation from a medical professional (companies such as ESA Doctors will provide this service for a fee). As conditions vary, check airline websites before you book, and be sure to consider the requirements for your destination—places like Hawaii, the U.K, Japan, and New Zealand have restrictions on entry and exit. Here’s what to expect from the big six: American Airlines allows emotional support animals at no charge, as long as they fit on your lap, at your feet, or under the seat, and don’t block the aisle. Forget about that extra legroom, though: For security reasons, you won’t be able to sit in an exit row with a service animal in tow. You’ll need to submit an authorization form or provide a doctor’s letter to reservations at least 48 hours before your flight—if the airline can’t validate your documentation, your companion may have to fly in a kennel. Delta welcomes ESAs in the cabin, but that doesn’t mean your trip will turn into a Noah’s ark reenactment: The airline bans hedgehogs, ferrets, insects, rodents, spiders, sugar gliders, reptiles, non-household birds such as chickens, dirty or smelly animals, and anything with a tusk or a hoof. And even if you’re alone in your row, flight attendants will expect your animal to travel in the space below you—pets aren’t allowed in seats designed for human cargo. Passengers with disabilities are entitled to seating accommodations, so make sure you get your assignment when you book; you’ll have to present documentation on letterhead from a licensed medical or mental-health professional upon check-in (a digital version is ok, as long as the pertinent details can be verified), and you’ll be entitled to preboarding if you meet the requirements and give the gate agent the heads-up first. Because of public health and safety concerns, JetBlue will also deny boarding to passengers with unusual animals such as snakes, rodents, and birds with unclipped wings, but as long as your ESA doesn’t fall in those categories, and you call and advise customer service of your animal before flying, you should be in the clear. JetBlue airport personnel can request your documentation at any time, though, so keep it on hand—a hard copy on your doctor’s letterhead and an electronic version in a non-editable format (like a PDF) are both fine, but email or Word documents won’t be accepted. If you’re booking a Southwest flight online, you can alert the airline of your intention to travel with an ESA via the site’s traveler-info page; you can also notify customer service after the fact with a quick call or click. Along with the usual suspects mentioned above, Southwest won’t accept therapy dogs for transportation, and all animals must be positioned so they don’t block evacuation paths in the event of an emergency—so, either on the floor or on your lap, but definitely not in the exit row. (Note: If you plan to travel with your ESA on your lap, it must meet the somewhat ambiguous requirement of being smaller than a two-year-old kid.) Bring current documentation on your doctor’s letterhead, and brace for a few fact-finding questions at the airport—though employees can’t ask about the specifics of your disability, they can and probably will enquire as to what assistance your animal provides. As long as they sit at your feet without sticking out in the aisle, ESAs with the proper documentation are accepted on United flights. At a minimum, you’ll want to give the airline 48 hours advance notice, but it’d be wise to allow more time—the airline’s accessibility desk has to receive and validate your documentation prior to travel, including contacting your mental health professional for verification, and if they can’t validate, you’ll have to transport your animal as a pet and pay the relevant fees. Virgin also requires recent documentation, such as a letter from a psychiatrist, psychologist, or licensed clinical social worker, to substantiate disability-related claims for an onboard ESA. Service animals don’t have to be in a pet carrier, but they do have to be confined to your own space and can’t be in a seat or obstruct aisles. And as always, leave the pet snake at home—no reptiles, rodents, or other animals that present health risks are allowed onboard.

Travel TipsProduct Reviews

That's How She Rolls: Rashida Jones Designs a Cute Luggage Collection You'll Love

Rashida Jones knows a thing or two about globe-trotting. In addition to fulfilling the press-junket duties required of an in-demand actor, writer, and Emmy-nominated producer, the Angie Tribeca star serves as a voice for the International Rescue Committee, visiting refugees in camps in Lebanon and Thailand and in cities such as San Diego and New York as they put down roots. Her time on the road inspired a desire to design luggage that would help relieve the pressures of traveling—and add a measure of whimsy to the process. “Anybody that’s been to a major international airport in the last five years can attest to the fact that it can be really grueling to travel,” she says. “I loved the idea of being able to bring some magic into something banal.” Enter: her new collaboration with Away, the minimalist brand beloved by models, actors, and social-media darlings alike for its lightweight, tough-shelled, stylish suitcases. (Perhaps the ubiquitous millennial-pink edition popped up in your Instagram feed?) Cleared to fit the overhead bins of all major airlines’ planes, each Away carry-on comes equipped with USB ports powered by a rechargeable, removable, FAA-, TSA-, and DOT-approved battery; the suitcase’s polycarbonate exterior, here available in a trio of muted pastels, also comes standard. As batteries aren’t allowed in checked baggage, the bigger versions have other perks—namely, an interior compression system, a built-in lock, and, Jones’s favorite, a removable laundry bag. Rounding out the line are flexible packing cubes in coordinating colors (Marie Kondo disciples, rejoice!) and, perhaps the star of the show, a vegan tote that can slip over the handle of a carry-on when you’re not wearing it crossbody. Jones personally designed the bag for easy access to the necessities, from water bottle to plane ticket. “I wanted to create the perfect tote that was just big enough to fit the smallest computer, but not so big that it was going to break your back when you picked it up, or fall off your luggage when placed on top,” she says. “It was about completing the experience of having an efficient travel day.” At $225 for the basic carry-on, this luggage doesn’t come cheap, but Away delivers value by eliminating retailers’ markup and selling directly to consumers, backing its “unbreakable” promise with a lifetime guarantee (batteries not included—those are subject to a two-year warranty). For Jones, whose bucket list currently includes South America and Australia, the collab provides a comprehensive travel experience. “I love that you can use everything in the collection in several different ways,” she says. “For me, it’s just about having enough components that you can put together so that you feel like you’re being taken care of during your trip.” Sounds like a bargain.