Take the stress out of holiday travel with these gadgets, apps, and tips

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Booking last-minute flights

If you’re still making travel plans, well, we wish you the best of luck. It won’t be cheap, nor will you find the best options, but it’s still very possible to find something.

TripIt Travel Organizer (free for iOS and Android)

TripIt has the following tips for when you’re booking online.

  • Be aware that only the insane travel on the Wednesday before and the Sunday after Thanksgiving; so too are December 22, 23, 28, and 29. Not only are these days the most expensive ticket-wise (if there are even any seats left), they will be the busiest. Your best bet: Travel in the morning of the actual holiday, or between December 16 and 20.
  • From experience, we have never had great luck connecting through cold-weather airports (we’re looking at you, Chicago and Denver). If a connection is a must, TripIt suggests picking cities in warmer climates, like Phoenix or Houston. Weather is always unpredictable, but your likelihood of getting stuck in Atlanta is significantly less than, say, Detroit. Plus, give yourself some time during the connection, to factor in for late arrivals.

Not all seats are created equal

SeatGuru by TripAdvisor (free for iOS and Android)

Before you book a flight, take a few minutes to consult SeatGuru. There are lots of useful travel websites and apps, but SeatGuru continues to be one of the most useful since it launched in 2001 (and one of our all-time favorites), and now it has dedicated apps for iOS and Android (although the website scales nicely on mobile devices). Browse to the airline and aircraft type, and SeatGuru lists all the amenities available onboard (including whether the plane has Wi-Fi and power outlets) as well as which seats to avoid. Don’t know the plane model? Just punch in the airline, flight number, and date, and SeatGuru automatically finds it for you. SeatGuru even gives you flight information.

Another app to check out is ExpertFlyer. Not only can it help you find the best seats (using info from SeatGuru), but if none of your preferred seats are free, it will monitor all of the available best seats on your flight up until departure, and send you an alert when one opens up.

Download your airline’s app

The latest smartphone apps from many of the airlines offer a lot of options, from changing your seats to getting on standby for an earlier flight. They are so full-featured that you can even look for a last-minute flight if your original one got cancelled. Since your smartphone is always connected, you can bypass logging onto a computer (and pray for Wi-Fi) or seeing an airline rep to make changes. These apps also provide real-time notification of things like delays and gate changes.

Organize your trip

If your holiday travel involves hotel stays, excursions, rental cars, restaurant reservations, etc., get organized. You could do it the old-fashion way and write down all the information, or use a travel app like the one from TripIt. Sign up for a free account, and then simply email all your different itineraries to TripIt, which will automatically create a single itinerary that includes your flight and hotel info; you can then manually edit the list to include any activities. There’s also a TripIt Pro option ($49) that monitors the status of your flights, and recommends better seats if they are available. We have used TripIt for some time, and find it handy and simple to use (Pro isn’t a must-have for casual travelers). A useful feature is the ability to share the entire itinerary (or parts of it) with friends and family members – like the ones who are picking you up from the airport or train station.

Use social media when in a jam

Chances of something not going according to plan – a flight has been canceled or delayed, you were bumped off an oversold flight, etc. – are pretty high during busy-travel seasons. You could wait in long lines to rectify an issue, or you could get onto your Twitter account and live-tweet the airline. Not all airlines have a social media presence, but those that actively use social media to engage with customers – JetBlue, Virgin America, and Southwest come to mind – can offer real-time assistance. From our experience, both JetBlue and Virgin America were incredibly quick to respond to queries on Twitter.

Next page: Splurge for a lounge, Uber your ride, or book via Airbnb

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