Whether you're heading home to visit the family or spending an exotic Xmas on the beach, planning your holiday travel is an excruciating exercise; fewer flights, higher fees, and insane security lines are the least of your problems, as you've likely done everything all wrong anyway. Though it may be too late to set you straight this year, here are six tips to help you avoid some common Bush-league blunders in the future. You booked flights way too late
Plan ahead. Obviously, the law of supply and demand dictates that fares go up as the holidays approach -- you didn't need us to tell you that. No, you don't have to buy your Turkey day ticket in February, but making solid holiday plans earlier in the Fall will definitely save you cash next time. Here's something to keep in mind as you slowly go mad by checking fares each morning, hoping that they dropped overnight: for each day that passes, the best seats and flight times are getting booked. In the end, you may save a few bucks by waiting, but you're more likely to be flying at 5a and sitting in a middle seat. You're traveling on peak days
Not surprisingly, traveling on notoriously high-traffic days like the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, or the following Sunday, will burn a hole in your wallet -- seats on those flights aren't cheap. Worse yet are the screaming kids, obnoxious crowds, and long security lines. Save some cash -- and your sanity -- by flying either on Thanksgiving/Christmas Day (deals and availability are usually good), or several days prior. You don't have a ‘Plan B’
It's inevitable that the busiest travel time of the year will be riddled with bad weather, flight delays, and traffic-halting accidents. Crazy, right? Have customer service numbers at the ready, bring extra snacks, and, if you're driving, map out a backup route. Also, packing a little spontaneity doesn't hurt; sure, not getting to Grandma by Christmas morning sucks, but being redirected on the next flight to Vegas (where there're cheap hotel rooms… and gambling!) could be better than a meal coupon and airport lodging. Especially if you don't even really like Grandma in the first place. You didn't check flight schedules before heading out the door
There's nothing worse than arriving on-time for a delayed flight (except maybe arriving late for an on-time flight). As nobody wants to spend an entire afternoon making small talk with the bartender at Chili's, either check the FAA's Flight Delay information (which offers real-time updates on arrival/ departure traffic delays) before leaving the house, or sign up for flight status e-mail notifications. Better yet, go all new-school and download fancy smartphone apps like Flying and GateGuru. You flew south for the winter
Sure, your family has been renting the top floor of the Daytona Beach Holiday Inn at Christmas for years, but sunny destinations are notoriously expensive during the winter holidays. Meanwhile, cities like Washington DC, San Francisco, and Houston are losing tons of business travelers; convince Uncle Leo that the Johnson Space Center is lovely in late December, and you'll be rewarded with steep hotel and flight discounts. You don’t know about ‘Dead Week’
A little secret in the travel industry is "Dead Week" (around January 4th to January 10th), the seven or so days following the holidays when nobody is traveling -- pretty much because they’ve just blown all their cash on gifts, holiday visits, and New Years partying. As plane loads and hotel room occupancy are at an all-time low that week, sales are bucket cheap. Maybe your family would prefer to celebrate the Epiphany rather than Christmas this year? Just a thought.