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If the airport seems more crowded around Labor day weekend, it’s not your imagination. Airlines for America, an industry trade group, predicted 16.5 million flyers will take to the skies between Aug. 29 and Sept. 4, a record for the Labor Day holiday travel period and a 3.5% jump over the same time last year.
The busiest days are expected to be the Thursday and Friday before the weekend, followed by Labor Day. On Aug. 30 and 31, 5.36 million passengers are expected to pass through U.S. airports, with 2.58 million people returning on Labor Day.
Airports, airlines brace for holiday rush
To ensure the expected 2.36 million passengers per day get to their final destinations, airlines are increasing their capacity. For this year’s Labor Day travel period, carriers will have 92,000 additional seats each day across their networks compared to the same time last year.
Airlines aren’t the only ones bracing for the rush. The Transportation Security Administration has been preparing for the last travel weekend of summer by adding an estimated 1,600 employees to security checkpoints and 50 more passenger-screening canine teams at airports.
While some expensive cities were among the most popular Labor Day destinations in 2017, according to Expedia, its new data suggested travelers may be looking elsewhere now. Thanks to flight and hotel savings of 10% to 20% available during this holiday weekend, the desirable destinations included Austin; Denver and Colorado Springs, Colorado; Kailua-Kona, Hawaii; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Cancun and Puerto Vallarta in Mexico.
» Learn more: It’s not too late to score a last-minute Labor Day deal
How to survive Labor Day travel
With more people expected at airports, travelers could face additional pressure to keep their cool. If you are traveling this holiday period, remember these four easy tips to make your trip easier:
1. Arrive extra early at the airport
Lines are expected to be longer than usual at security checkpoints. Even if you have TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, it makes sense to reach the airport extra early to beat the lines. Domestic travelers should arrive at least two hours before their flights, while international travelers should get to the terminal at least three hours in advance.
2. Check your travel insurance options from your credit card
If you paid for your trip with a credit card, be sure to understand what travel insurance you may have for when things go wrong. Many popular travel credit cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, offer coverage for trip delay and baggage loss if you’re stuck at the airport because of a carrier delay. The benefits can include a daily allowance to purchase emergency items for a certain period if your luggage doesn’t arrive on time.
» Learn more: The beginner's guide to points and miles
3. Escape the crowds with lounge access
Crowded airport terminals mean more competition among flyers for comfortable seats and power outlets. The easiest way to get away from the chaos and snag a complimentary beverage is at an airport lounge, which typically charges a fee. But getting free access to a lounge may be as simple as holding the right credit card. The United℠ Explorer Card offers the primary cardholder two free passes to United Club lounges every anniversary year, while the Chase Sapphire Reserve® gives Priority Pass Select membership to the primary cardholder, which grants access to select lounges worldwide. Those who mostly fly Delta Air Lines could benefit from The Platinum Card® from American Express, which offers the primary cardholder entry into Delta Sky Clubs and Priority Pass Select lounges (enrollment required).
» Learn more: Make sure your credit card comes with lounge access
4. Be prepared for delays, cancellations and rebookings
With travelers scrambling to get to their final destinations and summer storms looming over certain routes, be prepared for inevitable flight delays or cancellations. Before you travel, add the airline telephone number to your phone and know your options. Calling the airline, reaching out on social media and waiting in line at the airport can help you rebook your flight in the event of an emergency.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card