Even in the midst of a pandemic, Americans are traveling. While Thanksgiving travel was certainly lighter than usual, U.S. air travel hit its highest level since mid-March over the holiday and millions of Americans also traveled by car to join family and friends. More people passed through U.S. airport security checkpoints on Sunday than on any other single day since the pandemic began. According to TSA, 1.7 million people were screened the Sunday after Thanksgiving. From baggage drop to the security line to the boarding gate, many things can happen at the airport. Just getting through can make even the most savvy traveler anxious. Here are a few mistakes you may be making, as well as some tips to help you eliminate as many hassles as possible.
Paying Too Much for Airport Parking
One of the most common airport mistakes is paying too much for parking. There are good ways to lower the cost. Pay attention to the signs directing you to "long-term parking." Parking in short-term parking for two weeks will result in a bill of several hundred dollars in most larger airports. However, in my opinion, it's best to park off the airport property at nearby lots catering to travelers. Parking coupons and other discounts will lower your bill. Another alternative is hotel "park and fly" options. You book a room for the night and simply leave your car in the hotel's parking lot. A shuttle bus takes you to the terminal. Hotels frequently have special rates for such arrangements. If you'll be spending $100 or more on parking anyway, the hotel room becomes a free perk. In short, it pays to consider your cheap airport parking options long before you leave home.
Impulse Buys During Duty Free Shopping
When you have time to kill between flights, those duty free shopping signs can be tempting. The idea behind duty free shopping is to offer merchandise with greatly reduced or eliminated sales taxes. Airports are frequently in special trade zones that permit such cuts. But do you really know if the merchandise is a bargain? If you encounter familiar products, perhaps the answer is yes. But with local specialties, it often pays to get prices off the airport property before making a duty free shopping purchase. Not all duty free shopping buys are bargains.
Buying Expensive Meals at the Airport
Whenever possible, avoid eating at airport restaurants. Although the selection of terminal restaurants has improved in recent years, food here tends to be greatly overpriced. It costs a lot to operate an airport restaurant, and those added expenses are built into every item you order. But eating at the airport is more common these days, since plane food is free far less frequently-if it's served at all. This situation has forced businesses to provide greater food choices in the terminals, but to benefit your budget, you should try to limit your eating to small snacks and light refreshments.
Paying Too Much for Airport Car Rentals
As with airport food, airport car rentals are generally overpriced. If it's possible to arrange cheap transportation to nearby car rental locations, there is money to be saved by picking up and dropping off in a place that doesn't have "airport" in its name. There are times when airport car rentals can't be avoided, but if you can book elsewhere, it usually saves money to do so.
Paying Too Much for Ground Transportation
Ground transportation costs are fairly predictable. Taxi fares can be estimated before leaving home, but they usually wind up as the most expensive alternative, followed by express trains or an airport shuttle. Public transportation, such as trains or bus lines, are usually the cheapest option, but can be difficult if you have several large bags in tow. Be careful to account for time as well as money when selecting a ground transportation option. In London, for example, the Heathrow Express train costs twice as much as taking a standard train, but it takes you to Central London much more quickly.
Skipping Alternative Airports
Most travelers always choose the close, convenient airport when they price and book airfares. That can be among the costliest of all airport mistakes. Alternative airports can save money on airfares. The trick is calculating whether the savings will justify a few extra hours of driving. Sometimes, a slightly cheaper airfare at one of the alternative airports winds up costing travelers more in driving costs. This is easy to check- just click the box for alternative airports during your online fare search. But if you have several people in your travel party and you can save significant amounts on airfare by driving for an hour or so to one of the alternative airports, it's at least worth considering whether or not the more convenient terminal will be too costly.
Failing to Plan for Sleeping in Airports
Sleeping in airports is not recommended. Not only is it uncomfortable, but in some settings it can be unsafe as well. Despite these concerns, some budget travelers plan on spending a night in the terminal to save on the cost of a hotel. If that's your plan, know the risks involved. Find out if sleeping is permitted in your airport of choice- in some places it's not. Those last-minute hotel bookings can be quite expensive when you're forced to find a last minute hotel.
Showing Up Late to the Airport
This is a common mistake that results in lots of wasted money. Failing to allow adequate time can mean missed flights. If you're booking on low-cost carriers or snagging non-refundable fares, you'll be charged $100 or more to rearrange your itinerary. This problem comes up frequently at large airports, where security lines are almost always slow-moving. It can also happen during the holidays, when novice travelers slow the flow through those checkpoints. Arrive early, bring along some reading material, and relax.
Follow these tips and you just might find the airport an enjoyable experience!