HOLIDAY SAFETY TRAVEL TIPS: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW (2023 UPDATE)
Why do you need holiday travel safety tips? Because the 2023 holiday travel season will be like the 2022 season times 110% or 125%.
Everything will be more – the weather, the crowds, the hassles, the costs … everything. And you need to stay safe in the swirl of increased travel capacity.
Fortunately, we’re here to break it down and help you through the most wonderful – and stressful – time of the year.
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THE BIG TRENDS THAT WILL IMPACT 2023 HOLIDAY TRAVEL
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, the holiday months of November 2023 through January 2024 are expected to be warmer than normal across the entire country with the exception of the Gulf Coast and mid-South.
In addition, much of the country is expected to be drier than average, except for the Deep South, extending north and west into Virginia and Texas.
From a safety standpoint, you can take those predictions with a grain of salt, because:
- The Farmers' Almanac predicts pretty much the opposite. Then again, it almost always does.
- Warmer temps across the northern tier actually can result in more dangerous weather – more mixed precipitation and more ice, or rainstorms that freeze over when a cold front sweeps through.
- It only takes one. It can be blue-sky sunny for all of December except the last week, and you can still wind up stranded.
The weather forecasts could be worse, but they suggest some caution is in order.
Even though at the time of this writing (early September) AAA had not announced its holiday travel predictions, other experts were predicting record-shattering traveler numbers for the holidays.
Their comments boiled down to this: Every holiday this year has broken travel records. Why should the November and December holiday season be any different?
Most travel experts, including those at places like AAA, Hopper and Skyscanner, say the best time to snag the lowest airfares is … past. However, the second-best time to snag low airfares is … right now.
The pressure to book flights is only going to intensify as the days edge nearer to Thanksgiving. There are only so many seats available, and demand for those seats is going to be unprecedented. So get them while you can.
Last year’s holiday travel season was marked by a meltdown of Southwest Airlines’ systems, and nothing like that is going to happen this year – right?
The fact is that almost all domestic airlines are running on some sort of patched-together booking system, and that isn’t going to change between now and January 2024.
Travelers should be worried about an unprecedented travel crush crashing the systems of the air carriers. They should be worried about a Mount Everest of bags piling up at Heathrow.
And they should be particularly worried about it occurring when people travel most – during the holidays.
Actually, if you believe Conde Nast Traveler, airlines may be expecting soft demand for flights over the holidays, and are adjusting their prices accordingly.
However, you should remember that many airlines felt similarly in early fall last year, and look where that got us.
Currently airfares are at or below 2022 levels, but they’re volatile. If you’re hoping to fly over the holidays, use a site like Google Flights that sends you price alerts and jump on a lower price when you find one.
If you’re driving, recent gas-price hikes related to refinery issues are worrisome, though some experts expect prices to decline slightly in time for holiday travel. This is particularly important for Thanksgiving travel, when about 17% of Americans hit the road.
When it comes to lodging, prices are expected to be slightly lower than in 2022, with increased demand for rental homes where multiple generations can gather.
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AIR TRAVEL TIPS
Book right away
We’ve been through this, but sitting on a holiday flight waiting for the price to go down is a fool’s endeavor. Except for international flights around Thanksgiving (“that’s an American holiday, Walt!”), airfares almost never go down the nearer you get to the holidays.
Unless you plan on flying Southwest, which lives in its own bubble, Google Flights should be your first destination. Find your best options and pull the trigger – or, if you’re in a gambling mood, set up a fare alert. But be prepared for your fare-change notifications to show only increases.
Book on strategic dates
There’s a whole segment that deals with the best times to land the best airfares. If you want to keep things simple, book early. If you want to try and win the airfare cost challenge, here’s what to do:
Fly on Thanksgiving: There are good deals on international flights to be had if you take off on Turkey Day. If you fly domestically on Thanksgiving, you miss the drumsticks, the football and the crowds.
And if you’re feeling particularly untethered and lucky, you can score some amazing last-minute deals on Thanksgiving Day travel to sun-and-fun destinations.
Be strategic: If you’re not up for Turkey Day travel, Forbes recommends the following dates to fly around the holiday:
- Saturday before
- Monday before
- Tuesday before
- Wednesday after
- Black Friday
- Giving Tuesday
For Christmastime travel, the most inexpensive flights typically are on the holidays themselves.
If you’re game to fly on the holiday, you’ll find median round-trip prices for domestic flights on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day coming in under $400.
It’s harder to find good bargains for return dates. Past history has shown the cheapest times for flights are Dec. 24-28 or Dec. 25-29, with the most expensive itineraries covering the entire week surrounding Christmas.
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Book refundable flights and stays
What we said last year applies equally in 2023: Travel is more of a gamble than ever, so look for refundable flights and stays.
Major travel sites are getting better at listing the refund policies for flights and hotels. Read the terms carefully, looking for loopholes they might use to not pay you.
You can also search on your favorite online travel site for terms like “free cancellation" or "reserve now, pay later."
Also, when searching flights online, look closely at what’s included with the ticket, paying special attention to flight changes and cancellations. You may have to pay more for refundable tickets, but for this holiday season in particular it’s worth it.
Wait to book your hotel
The latest numbers from the U.S.Travel Association showed that hotel-room prices have increased 6.6% in 2023. Even so, there are deals to be had.
Last-minute lodging sites like Hotel Tonight can be a great resource if you’re just pulling into town and need a discounted place to stay.
It’s a gamble, though. Prices fall the closer you get to your arrival time, but the supply dwindles as well, meaning you may not get the location, hotel brand, or room type you want.
The only exception: High-demand areas like ski resorts, where you’ll want to book early – and pay the price – to get prime dates.
Choose your flights wisely
Especially at smaller airports, the later in the day you fly the greater the risk of having a flight delayed or canceled. This effect is more pronounced in Northern Tier states and around the holidays.
For example, according to the Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Reports, some of the most delayed airports in the country during December 2022 were:
- Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska
- Jackson, Wyo.
- Aspen, Colo.
- Columbus, Ohio
- Minot, N.D.
- Seattle, Wash.
This can have ripple effects; for instance, the on-time stats for Newark, Dallas Love Field and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway were poor in December 2022, in part because of delays at airports feeding into these terminals.
Very often planes servicing small airports go back-and-forth to these hubs, and if something disrupts the process, everything gets messed up.
Bottom line: Take the first flight of the day whenever you can.
What to do if your flight is canceled
If a flight is canceled while you’re in the airport:
- Work the phones, social media, and your airline’s app while you’re waiting in line.
- If you can’t connect with domestic customer service, try the international lines. They may be available when domestic agents aren’t.
- If you have travel insurance, inform them of your plight and get the travel assistance team involved. All BHTP plans come with 24/7 customer service, so they’re on-call and ready to help.
If it looks like you may be stranded for a while, consider buying a one-day pass to an airport lounge. The $25-$75 you might spend will be more than offset by the relative comfort of the lounge.
Pro Tip: Though access rules for some airport lounges have changed over the last year, many travel credit cards include complimentary access to airport lounges worldwide.
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CAR TRAVEL TIPS
If one-third to one-half of all holiday travelers fly, that means one-half to two-thirds drive to where they’re going.
Here are some ways of making sure your holiday drive goes smoothly.
Book early to get the car rental you want
For car rentals, supply bottlenecks are largely a thing of the past, though there may still be spot shortages of some vehicles and the occasional horror story.
Rental-car prices remain high, though, with rates up 48% since Summer 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics – and those are generalized, non-peak, non-holiday prices. Expect to pay more around the holidays.
Florida airports have the best supply of rental vehicles, but what applies to everything else in travel applies here: book early to get the vehicle you want.
What to do if you get stuck
Inclement winter travel conditions can always be an issue when you’re on the road. If you wind up stranded, don’t panic; stay where you are. Your chances of survival are better inside than outside.
Most cell towers and carriers are unaffected by weather. Call 911 and tell them where you are, who’s with you, your exact location, and how much food, water and gas you have. Then call a friend or relative with the same information.
Even if you don’t have service, it’s vital to keep your phone charged, ideally with a portable power bank. Warmth is crucial, so focus on conserving your body heat. Wrap up in anything you can find and run the car, but only enough to get the cabin moderately warm.
Hopefully you prepared for this by packing a shovel with a telescoping handle, some sand or cat litter, or some cardboard.
If that’s the case and it’s stopped snowing:
- Keep your flashers on, and clear out around the exhaust to prevent carbon monoxide from seeping into the cabin.
- Wipe snow off the roof, then the sides, then shovel out the tires, and finally shovel a path in the direction you want to go.
- Make tools from whatever you have on hand. A credit card can double as a scraper, floor mats can sub for cardboard, and a Frisbee makes a passable emergency shovel.
- Turn your wheels from side to side. Rock the car back and forth to get traction.
- Go slow. If your tires are spinning, giving it more gas will only dig you deeper.
- If you get out, go slow and easy. You just got unstuck; you don’t need to get stuck a second time.
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More winter driving tips
In 2020, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an estimated 119,000 police-reported crashes occurred in wintry conditions.
To avoid becoming a statistic, follow NHTSA’s top winter-driving tips:
- Increase your following distance on bad roads – especially when following a snowplow
- Pass plows with care
- Inspect your tires, and fill them to the recommended pressure
- Fill your vehicle’s windshield washer reservoir with high-quality “winter” fluid with de-icer
- Replace worn wiper blades
- Test your battery and replace it if it’s old or weak
- Promptly replace burned-out headlights or taillights
In addition, the NHTSA recommends ditching the heavy winter coat for infants and toddlers in car seats. Instead, dress them in thin layers, snug down the harness, then cover them with a blanket.
Meanwhile, Transport Canada adds brake and exhaust-system checks to its list, and recommends you carry a winter emergency kit with the following:
- Small shovel with a long handle
- Sand or kitty litter
- Traction mats
- Cloth or roll of paper towels
- Warning light, reflective safety triangles or road flares
- Extra socks, gloves, and footwear
- Emergency food pack
- Water bottles
- Booster cables
- Hand and foot warmers
- Fire extinguisher
- Windshield washer fluid
- Fuel-line antifreeze
- Extra fuses
- Lock de-icer
- Tool kit with screwdriver, pliers, a hammer, and wrenches
If you have an EV
If you’re driving an EV in snow and ice and haven’t before, a couple of important tips:
Expect the range your vehicle shows to be half your actual range. It’s not just the cold that kills an EV’s batteries. Wind and precipitation are range-killers, too.
Remember that just about everything you do in your EV will affect battery life. That includes running the heater, the radio, wireless charging, windshield wipers, fans – everything. If you’re concerned about range, shut down everything you can.
Charge whenever possible, and set your battery’s capacity to 100%.
If your car isn’t going to make it to the next charging station, make alternate plans. Find a car dealer, garage, or hotel where you might be able to plug in for the night.
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OVERALL: BE FLEXIBLE, STAY HEALTHY, CHOOSE WISELY
If booking right away is Holiday Travel Tip No. 1, being flexible is a solid 1a.
Holiday travel takes place at one of the busiest travel times of the year, in a time of rampant personnel shortages and flight chaos, and requires navigating crowds, blizzards, and everything in between.
If you want to make it through safely, you’re going to need to be flexible.
Flexibility really means two things:
- Staying cool, calm and collected when things go wrong when you travel – because things are bound to go wrong; and
- Building flexibility into your travels, so that you can handle upheavals.
COVID’s back, so get vaccinated before you leave. Get a flu shot and an RSV vaccination as well, especially if you’re in a high-risk group.
Having the flexibility to go where you want is important, so have the health stuff buttoned up – especially if you have an underlying health condition.
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Choose the safest places to travel
So if you want to travel, where are the safest places to travel? Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection has determined the world’s safest countries and cities for the upcoming year, as we do every year, and here are the top five safest countries:
- New Zealand
The top five cities are:
Perhaps unsurprisingly, those lists of mainly cold-weather destinations don’t align with where people are traveling for the holidays.
According to Hopper, the most booked domestic destinations for the 2022 holidays were:
- New York City
- Los Angeles
Expect a similar pattern in 2023.
As always, holiday travel means choosing between safety and popularity. Choose wisely.
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LAST, BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST: BUY TRAVEL INSURANCE
We’re not saying that travel insurance will make the craziness of this holiday travel season vanish, but it will give you the peace of mind to travel confidently knowing you’ll be reimbursed if travel issues mess with your trip.
Additionally, the travel assistance offered with BHTP travel insurance will help smooth the literal and figurative bumps in the road.
Travel insurance is also surprisingly affordable for most types of holiday travel. You can get a quote today and see that for yourself.
And with that … safe and happy holiday travel, everyone! May your travel days be merry and bright.
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Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection (BHTP) is a registered trademark and a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance Company (BHSI), a leader in specialized casualty and liability insurance. The information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. BHTP disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of such information. The opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice.