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Last-minute holiday trips and tips

Kate Maxwell of Jetsetter.com gives her tips for traveling over the holidays and talks about discount trips still available for booking, such as a Manhattan vacation and a golf resort and spa package.

Are you planning on flying away for the holidays? Kate Maxwell, editor-in-chief of Jetsetter, swung by the TODAY show this morning with some tips for surviving the busiest travel period of the year. Make sure you check them before you check in.

1. Get bumped. The peak Christmas travel period is one of the best opportunities to earn free flights. If your plans are flexible and you know your flight is oversold, be proactive: Put your name on the list to be bumped as soon as you get to the gate. But make sure the airline has a confirmed seat for you on a later flight, or else you might be stranded indefinitely.

2. Be alert. Last year, 27 percent of holiday flights were delayed and another 3.7 percent were canceled – stay ahead of the game by signing up for trip alerts. You can get text or email notifications by signing up with your airline or Flightstats.com, or by downloading the FlightTrackPro app, which pings you with the latest flight information, from departure times to gate changes. 

3. Skip the lines. If your flight does end up being delayed or (worse) canceled, don’t line up with the rest of the 100-odd passengers who are also stranded. Instead, call the airline, or if you have status, the dedicated elite number. When you get a representative on the line, be prepared with an alternate flight you’re prepared to take. Do some research ahead of time or use the ExpertFlyer app, which has real-time seat maps for more than 100 airlines.

4. Fly on Christmas Day. Ticket prices skyrocket during the holidays and many airlines add peak travel fees and surcharges (similar to fuel surcharges) onto already steeper fares. The exception to the rule is Christmas Day, when you can nab significantly lower prices. If flying on Christmas Day isn’t practical, you’ll get the best prices on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

5. Fly early. Early departures are less likely to be delayed than later flights and, when there is a travel interruption, it’s likely to be shorter if you fly earlier — it’s the domino effect. And avoid the last flight of the day at all costs: If you miss it you’ll be stuck with an overnight at the airport.

6. Keep your shoes on, kids! The TSA relaxed the rules for children under 12 in September. Kids are less likely to be put through further screenings such as pat downs — and they can keep their shoes on at airport security checkpoints.

7. Use the family line. All airports have a family line at security but not all of them advertise it. If you don’t see a sign, ask. The low-pressure lane lets you grapple with crying babies, questionable liquids and strollers without worrying about other travelers. Some airports also have a black diamond line for “expert travelers” who are familiar with the TSA requirements and can zip through the checkpoint.

8. Ship your gifts. While the Transportation Security Administration doesn’t prohibit packing wrapped gifts, they may insist on your opening packages that raise a red flag. Save yourself the hassle and wrap those presents post-flight or, pre-wrap and ship the packages before you go. That way you avoid potential baggage fees and overweight luggage surcharges.

9. Pack the pie; leave the cabernet sauvignon at home. Want to bring you favorite homemade holiday dish with you? You’re allowed to pack cakes, pies and cookies, but most liquids — including cranberry sauce, creamy dips, salsa, gravy and alcohol — should be left at home. Here’s a complete list of what’s permitted and what’s not. 

10. Travel during a dead week. Dead weeks are annual low points in travel demand, typically following the holiday flurry around Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve, when prices fall. You’ll find great deals the first two weeks of January. Some hotels, airlines and car rental companies offer advance discounts, but the best bargains can be found last minute.

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