Rising prices have made it harder to buy everything from presents to turkey, but travel inflation has thrown a wrench into the gears of more holiday plans than just about anything else.
If you bought a plane ticket for the holidays — even if you played it safe and made your reservations months in advance — you probably spent a whole lot more than you would have at the same time last year.
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After endless months of prices rising everywhere from the gas pump to the grocery store, an expensive plane ticket might feel like the final straw for your holiday budget. But if you can pony up for just a few more modest upcharges, you can make your holiday travel faster, smoother, more comfortable and far less stressful.
You already bought the tickets, so the heavy financial lifting is behind you. Now, if you can find a way to dig just a little deeper, these upgrades, add-ons and extras are worth the cost.
Standard Economy Over Basic Economy
The big legacy airlines created the basic economy fare to keep up with the bargain-basement prices that newer, ultra-low-cost carriers like Frontier and Spirit brought to the market. The industry heavyweights lowered their cheapest fares by stripping down services and amenities.
If you settle for basic instead of springing for standard economy, you probably won’t collect miles or points toward elite status — but that’s just the start of your downgrade. You also won’t be able to pick your seat — you can forget about sitting with your family — and they won’t let you change or cancel your flight, fly standby, check a bag or even bring a carry-on for free.
According to Forbes, the tradeoff is only the most modest of savings — typically about $25 compared to main cabin fares — and they have a way of getting it back by nickel and diming you on fees.
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A Seat in the Exit Row — But Only for the Right Passengers at the Right Price
A seat in the coveted exit row isn’t right for everyone — in case of any emergency, a lot of responsibility rides on your shoulders. Also, you might not be able to get one as some airlines reserve the exit row for elite members only. Finally, if you have children, you’ll have to pass because kids can’t sit there, which goes to the first point.
If you spring for a seat in the exit row, you’ll guarantee that you won’t be flying next to children or a baby — and that alone is worth the upcharge for the most tantrum-averse travelers. But most people consider it the best seat in the house because it offers more legroom than any other in the cabin, which can be especially appealing to tall passengers. According to Executive Flyers, the exit row upgrade can range from $20-$200. If you fit the criteria and you see one on the low end, grab it.
If you fly on any sort of regular basis, TSA PreCheck is worth the fee. The program prescreens eligible travelers and whisks them through security. You’ll see members hustling toward their own dedicated lane while you wait in a long, snaking line with the masses. When they get there, they pass through security without having to remove their shoes, belts, jackets or laptops.
The program costs $85, but membership is good for five years and you’ll enjoy expedited screening at about 200 participating airports. Alternatively, the Global Entry program costs $100 and grants you access to TSA PreCheck and provides several added benefits.
Some travel credit cards offer credits for either or both programs as part of their perks, so check the terms of your benefits before you apply.
A survey conducted by Priority Pass shows that checking in and checking your bags is one of the most stressful moments of traveling through an airport. It’s not hard to understand why — long lines, impatient staff and stress about whether you’ll make your flight permeate the entire affair.
You can bypass that whole miserable process if you hold elite status with the airline of your choice. But if not, some airlines let you pay for an upgraded and expedited check-in process — and it can be an affordable upcharge that pays for itself in the form of stress never endured.
United, for example, offers Premier Access starting at just $15, depending on your route. That buys you entry into a dedicated airport check-in line — but the convenience doesn’t stop there. Premier Access also comes with priority boarding and exclusive security lines to speed up every stage of the process from arrival to takeoff.
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