Travel days can be stressful but they don’t have to be. Whether your itinerary calls for a long car ride or a series of connecting flights, you can prevent and manage some of the hiccups that can come your way by understanding the situations that could potentially derail your trip.
Arm yourself with the information you need to prevent problems before they happen and your travel days will be filled with anticipation instead of agitation.
Tip #1: Put travel partners on speed dial
No matter where you’re going or how you’re getting there, add the contact information for all travel partners to your smartphone. Include your airline’s toll-free number, as well as a local number if you’re traveling outside of the United States. In the “notes” field, include your reservation’s 6-digit alphanumeric confirmation number, e-ticket numbers, flight numbers, departure and arrival times and any other important bits of data. This goes for your hotel and car rental partners, as well as your travel agent or online vendor like Expedia or Priceline. If you don’t have a smartphone, go old school and carry a piece of paper with you that includes these important details. You may need quick access to this information if something goes wrong.
Tip #2: Be smart about flight schedules
It pays to be aware of what causes flight delays. While you can’t actually prevent a travel delay, you can understand what causes them and make your plans accordingly. Flight delays are often caused by congestion. The fact is, our airport infrastructure is groaning under its own weight and airports like New York’s JFK and Chicago’s O’Hare can barely keep up with regularly scheduled flights. One minor delay can cause a chain reaction that gets worse throughout the day.
If you can, book the first flight since it often leaves on time. And, if there is a delay, you’ll have more rerouting options. The later your flight departs, the greater chance you’ll be delayed—by airport congestion, weather, mechanical trouble or crew issues. Unless you have a really good reason, don’t book the last flight of the day. If it’s delayed or canceled, you could end up sleeping at the airport or you’ll have to go home and try again the following day.
Also, consider booking a nonstop flight if one is available. The chance of a delay is compounded when you’re making connections to other flights that could be dealing with their own delays.
Tip #3: Have a backup plan
Have a Plan B just in case your flight gets canceled. Before you leave home, research alternate flights. Have at least two options with your airline as well as an option or two on alternate airlines. If a flight is canceled due to a mechanical or staffing issue, most airlines are bound by their contracts to get you to your destination—even if that means rebooking you on a competitor’s flight.
If you have a smartphone, download your airline’s app and register to receive text messages that will alert you to flight delays and cancellations.
If your flight is canceled and you’re already at the airport, immediately get in line for the gate agent. At the same time, call the toll-free number for the airline while you wait. You may get through faster to someone who can help rebook you on one of the flights you found when drafting your “Plan B.” Time is of the essence since everyone else on your flight is also trying to get rebooked. When an agent is ready, explain that you have identified a few routes that would work. The agent will be thrilled that you’re proactively suggesting alternatives.
Tip #4: Carry on your bags and label any checked luggage
Whenever possible, forego checked bags. If that’s not possible, prepare your bag so it has the best chance of arriving at your destination. Attach a luggage tag with your pertinent details. Inside the bag, place a piece of paper that includes your travel information (flights, hotel stays, etc.) as well as your contact information. At the check-in counter, look at the tag the agent attaches to your bag. Is the three-letter airport code of your destination on it? It should be. Take a photo of the tag and of your bag as a whole. If it gets lost, having a visual reference will be helpful. Never pack medication, ID or valuables in your checked luggage.
Tip #5: Prepay your car rental
Did you know that when you reserve a car, the rental company isn’t actually promising that a vehicle will be available upon your arrival? That little detail has derailed the start of many vacations. Most car rental companies do not guarantee that a car will be available when you get to their counter. At busy locations during peak seasons, that means you could wait hours for a car in the category that you reserved. Instead, prepay your rental (those reservations get priority and generally can’t be refunded) or make a backup reservation that can be canceled at a second agency. That way, if vehicle availability at your first choice is a bust, you have another option.
Tip #6: Check your rental coverage ahead of time
Everyone seems to freeze at the car rental counter when the agent asks if insurance is needed or not. For peace of mind, it’s wise to insure your rental. If you don’t want to purchase the pricey option from the rental company, see if one of your credit cards includes free primary insurance as a benefit. If it does, you can turn down the agency’s insurance and charge the rental to your credit card to ensure proper coverage.