If you are flying somewhere for the Thanksgiving holiday, plan to arrive at the airport early and expect to spend plenty of time waiting in line. Trade group Airlines for America and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) both predict the period between Friday, Nov. 16 and Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, will be the busiest Thanksgiving travel season of all time.
Those who are planning to be among the millions traveling to celebrate the holiday should begin their planning at home. This includes checking your travel credit cards for benefits, enrolling in lounge benefit programs and planning to beat the large crowds.
How many people are expected to travel?
Between Friday, Nov. 16 and Tuesday, Nov. 27, Airlines for America projects 30.6 million travelers will be taking to the skies to reunite with friends and family. The number is nearly 2 million more than last year when 29 million flew during the holiday period.
The increase in passengers also means longer lines at TSA security checkpoints. Between Friday, Nov. 16 and Monday, Nov. 26, the TSA anticipates it will screen over 25 million passengers at checkpoints, an increase of 5% from 2017.
» Learn more: Make the most of your Priority Pass this holiday season
Which days are expected to be the busiest? Both Airlines for America and the TSA are bracing for the Sunday after Thanksgiving (Nov. 25), as between 2.7 and 3.06 million passengers are expected to fly.
How are airlines and TSA preparing for crowds?
To keep travelers moving toward their final destination, airlines and TSA are preparing to increase numbers among their ranks. TSA will deploy 1,200 more officers and 80 passenger screening canine teams across the country.
Technology is also playing a part in the security plan: 16 airports have CT X-ray scanners installed at checkpoints, over 12 more have automated security lines and Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is using biometric data to confirm traveler identities.
» Learn more: Skip the line at TSA checkpoints without spending a dime
Airlines are adding up to 137,000 more seats daily during the holiday rush to accommodate the wave of passengers. In addition, Airlines for America says airlines have invested more than $115 billion in flight and ground equipment since 2010 with the goal of improving the customer experience.
What you can do now to prepare for holiday travel crowds?
Those who are planning to travel during the holiday season should start their planning well before they arrive at the airport. To reduce the amount of stress involved in the travel process, follow these tips:
- Pack carry-on items for ease: To make traveling through the checkpoint easier, travelers should pack carry-on items with efficiency in mind. Pack all 3-1-1 liquids and computers in easy-to-access places and be careful to not bring prohibited items (like liquids over 3 oz.). You can check which carry-on items are acceptable to carry on with the MyTSA app.
- Check gifts and large liquids: If you’re planning to bring a special item for Thanksgiving dinner or another gift to the host, be sure they are TSA compliant. While pies, cakes and other baked goods may be carry-on friendly, jellies and large liquids are not. If you have select airline credit cards such as the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®, the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, or the United℠ Explorer Card, you may already be entitled to one free checked bag.
- Make sure you have TSA Precheck: If you already have TSA Precheck through a credit card benefit or another program (such as Orbitz Rewards Platinum status), be sure your 10-digit Known Traveler Number is attached to your itinerary. If you already added your Known Traveler Number to your frequent flyer program, then no additional information may be required. But if you are a new member or flying on an airline where you don’t have a frequent flyer account, then you may be required to add it to your reservation.
- Download airline apps before departure: The easiest way to get notified about changes to your flight or checked luggage is to download airline apps before departure. In addition, most domestic flights now offer in-flight entertainment through their apps instead of with a seatback screen. By downloading apps ahead of time, you can get in front of changes before they become major problems.
- Check your credit card travel insurance: If you paid with a travel rewards credit card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you could already have travel insurance benefits available to you. In the event your trip is delayed or your luggage is lost, your credit cards could provide reimbursement for some unplanned expenses.
- Sign up for lounge programs now: Before arriving at the airport, it’s important to make sure you’re signed up for lounge benefit programs. While lounge memberships from the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® or the United MileagePlus® Club Card come automatically with activation, Priority Pass Select benefits from Chase Sapphire Reserve® or The Platinum Card® from American Express need to be added separately. If you plan on using your Priority Pass this holiday season, be sure your account is ready to go with a phone call to your credit card provider. If you don’t get your card in time, you can download a virtual card through the Priority Pass app.
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 2018, including those best for:
- Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®).
- Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card (Earn unlimited 2 miles per dollar on every purchase).
- Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve® (Get 3 points per dollar on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases).
- No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card (Earn unlimited 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases, with no annual fee).
- Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express (Get 5 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or through American Express Travel, plus get access to the Global Lounge Collection). Terms Apply.
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
Your money-saving guide to holiday vacations (or staycations)
Travel like a minimalist and save big
TSA-approved ways to cut the airport screening line