Is there anything worse than a long layover at an airport?
Yes, of course.
But the fact that you can’t think of anything worse while you’re mid-layover proves that the experience can still be pretty excruciating.
The secret to surviving a long layover is planning. Here are some things to consider before beginning any journey that includes a long layover.
Learn about your airport lounge options (even if you’re a budget traveler)
Anyone who’s heard the words “first-class lounge” might assume that those cushy, swanky airport lounges with free snacks, free drinks and showers are for the true jet-setters — an exclusive amenity for the well-heeled and well-connected. Not so. Airline passengers can often purchase a day pass at any of hundreds of airport lounges across the globe. Though these passes are rarely cheap, when you’re staring down the prospect of a five- or six-hour layover, they can offer a good value.
» Learn more: When an airport lounge day pass is worth the splurge
To get into an airline-specific lounge, you’ll probably need to show a boarding pass for same-day travel on that airline or one of its partners and pay a fee, often up to $60 per person, which can be good for the whole day’s travel, even if that includes multiple lounges in multiple airports. There are also non-airport-affiliated lounges, most notably those in the Priority Pass network, which holders of certain credit cards can access for free.
Check whether any of your credit cards offer a travel concierge
If you have a Chase Sapphire Reserve®, The Platinum Card® from American Express, a Citi Prestige® Card or any Mastercard with the World Elite logo, you may have seen the words “concierge” or “travel concierge” listed among your card benefits and shrugged. Who needs a 24-hour-a-day travel concierge service to make hotel reservations when it’s just as easy to make them yourself? That logic goes out the window when you’re on a long layover.
» Learn more: Nerdwallet’s top travel credit cards
Your concierge can provide recommendations for local restaurants, reservations, airline rebookings and a host of other services. In fact, in a long layover, you should consider your credit card’s travel concierge as the first person you call for just about anything.
Think about carry-on luggage
If your layover is so long that you’ll want to get out of the airport, it’s probably not ideal if everyone in your party has a carry-on roller bag and a large personal item. On the other hand, if you plan to hang out at the airport, you may want to have your stuff with you, from personal care products to a change of clothes to kids’ toys and electronics. It might be possible to leave your carry-on bags in storage at the airport, but that will cost time and money.
Get TSA Precheck or Global Entry
A long layover usually means you have too much time at the airport. But if you want to leave the airport, suddenly your problem could be too little time. Moving through the airport, getting ground transportation and especially going through airport security checks can eat up all the time you’d like to spend at a nearby restaurant or museum.
» Learn more: Why more credit cards help you speed through airport security
TSA Precheck or Global Entry can make all the difference. Precheck, which costs $85 for a five-year membership, gets you through TSA screening faster. Global Entry, $100, gets you through both TSA screening and Customs faster. But several credit cards cover the fee for these programs, leaving more money in your pocket.
Dress to de-stress
Loose clothing in comfortable, breathable fabrics and walkable shoes are well advised on any travel day. But comfort becomes critical if you’re going to be shifting in a waiting area seat trying to get comfortable for hours on end.
» Learn more: Travel like a minimalist and save big
Tell your inner fashionista to take a holiday so you can set aside those form-fitting skinny jeans and stylish boots for some baggy jeans and sneakers that will get you through a day or more of walking, sitting and trying to sleep. And don’t forget toiletries and any medications you may need. If your stomach is upset, you don’t want to spend 30 minutes scouring the airport for ginger chews.
Diversify your entertainment options
Even the most riveting page-turner can only keep you turning pages for a limited period of time. Mix up your media: a book or two, Netflix or Amazon movies downloaded to your device, downloaded podcasts, physical magazines or newspapers and more video games and books than you think the kids will need.
Scope out playgrounds, art exhibits and spa services at the airport
More and more airports have art installations and educational exhibits, especially about aviation. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, for example, has a full-on art program, with permanent installations and rotating exhibits spanning multiple terminals. London Heathrow has a spectacular gallery, the T5 Art Gallery London, right in Terminal 5.
Read about your layover airport online to learn about its art offerings. Ditto that for playgrounds. Boston Logan, for example, has not one but two “kidports” — playgrounds with climbing equipment and a kid-sized replica of the control tower. And don’t forget that many airports have in-terminal massage services. In lieu of those, even a massage chair can offer a relaxing way to kill some time.
Have local friends’ phone numbers handy
If you have any friends or acquaintances in your layover city, you or they might not have time for a visit. But have their contact info handy, anyway. If your travel plans go from bad to worse, through cancellations, natural disasters or other unforeseen emergencies, it will be good to have a friend who knows the area.
Consider a hotel or a hotel spa
If you’d love a nice, quiet room to get some sleep in the middle of the day, many hotels’ check-in times are later in the afternoon. If you want to check in at 11 a.m. for some shut-eye, you could be out of luck, but later in the day, it might be worth checking out local accommodations, especially if you have points or miles to redeem for a free stay.
» Learn more: 7 guaranteed ways to find cheap hotel rooms
In-airport hotels are the most appealing options because you don’t lose time or money on taxis or shuttles. Tampa International Airport, for example, has a Marriott you can walk to from your gate. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport has an on-site Intercontinental that you can walk to if you’re coming straight from the gate instead of from baggage claim. These nicer hotels often have spas, too — a great way to forget you’re in the middle of a stressful travel day.
Scope out airport-based “sleep pods”
Statistically speaking, the chances that your layover airport has pay-by-the-hour sleep pods are slim. Only a handful of airports have these tiny sleep compartments you can rent. But it would be a crying shame to suffer through a backbreaking, fully exposed semi-nap in the middle of a crowded terminal just because you didn’t realize a sleep pod was steps away.
Philadelphia, Charlotte, Dallas and Atlanta airports are all home to Minute Suites, with facilities where you can nap. Dubai, Berlin and London Heathrow are a few others have sleep facilities. You may need a reservation, so research your layover airport in advance and to see if you’re one of the lucky travelers with access to this little luxury.
How to maximize your rewardsYou want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2020, including those best for:
- Airline miles and a large bonus: The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- No annual fee: The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
- Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: The Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
- Premium travel rewards: The Chase Sapphire Reserve®
- Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
- Business travelers: The Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
When an airport lounge day pass is worth the splurge
5 ways to pack a carry-on like a pro and avoid checked bag fees
5 tips for relaxing during travel