8 tips to keep the ‘nice’ in your holiday travel

November is here. And you know what that means? The official start to the holiday season, or as we like to refer to it, the start of (typically) the busiest and most stressful time to travel. Here’s eight tips to make your journey as smooth as possible.

1. Buy gifts for them, earn miles for you

Maximize your miles with Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan Shopping and earn up to 10 miles for every dollar spent at any of our 850+ retailers.

Earn even more using the Alaska Visa® card, which includes a new account bonus offer of 40,000 bonus miles and Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22). To qualify, make purchases of $2,000 or more within the first 90 days of opening your account. You can also earn 3 miles for every $1 spent on eligible Alaska purchases and 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases using the Alaska Visa® card. Click the link above to learn about rates and fees or to apply.

Looking for more ways to earn miles? Get free flights 30% faster than other U.S. airlines by becoming an Alaska Mileage Plan member (based on average economy fare and trip length, compared to U.S. airlines that award points on spend). Members earn one mile for every mile flown on Alaska and our 15+ Global Partners, which offer flights to more than 800 destinations worldwide — don’t forget to add your Mileage Plan number to your reservation!

2. Download the app, check it twice

Download our award-winning mobile app to save time before and after you arrive at the airport. Use the app to buy tickets, check-in for flights, access your boarding pass and, on select flights, pre-order your inflight meal. On the day you travel, you can also use the app to change seats and switch to a later or earlier flight.

To stay up to date on flight alerts, don’t forget to enable push notifications on your mobile device. (We do not send marketing messages via our mobile app.)

Download the Alaska app: iPhone | Android

Have travel anxiety? Alaska launched a free app in the Apple App Store (iOS) and Google Play store (Android) called Fly for All. Designed for first-time flyers, guests traveling with children, unaccompanied minors and those with cognitive and developmental disabilities, including autism, the app will help ease the anxiety of air travel by walking guests through the steps they’ll follow when getting ready to fly. Learn more about the Fly for All app.

3. Avoid the ‘Home Alone’ mad dash

Frequent travelers often miss holiday flights. You should arrive at least two hours before departure – three hours before international flights. Airports are busier than usual, and they’re filled with less-experienced travelers around the holidays. That means lines are longer and slower, traffic is more congested, and parking is at a premium.

“We do tend to see guests missing flights around this time of year, and it’s not just inexperienced travelers – often it’s frequent travelers who are used to jetting from the curb to the gate in an hour and haven’t anticipated the slower lines,” said Lea Hanson, Alaska’s director of passenger services at Sea-Tac. “Airport size doesn’t matter. You must be checked in and at the gate, ready to go at least 40 minutes before domestic departures and 60 minutes before international departures. (Atlanta, Denver, Las Vegas, and Philly have a 45-minute check-in cut-off time.) Being late may cause the cancellation of your reserved seats, or even your entire reservation.”

If you’re a planner, use our airport guides for some pre-flight research.

4. Leave the cranberry sauce at grandma’s

You don’t want to be messing around with packing issues at check-in. There are weight limits to deal with. There are items to leave at home, or ship separately. And there are limits on what you can carry on. Here’s a quick primer on our baggage policies:

  • You get one carry-on bag and one personal item (briefcase, laptop, purse) with all airlines.
  • You can bring shopping bags filled with unwrapped gifts in lieu of a carry-on suitcase.
  • Wrapped gifts may be inspected regardless of whether you carry them through security or in checked luggage, so don’t wrap until you reach your final destination, or ship them ahead of time.

“Be prepared, and ensure you’re checking bags and not carrying too many items on the plane. That will definitely slow down security lines,” says Hanson. “And make sure checked baggage is labeled with your name and contact info to avoid mix-ups.”

If you’re bringing your pet, there are a number of things you need to do to prep beforehand, including some paperwork.

Learn more: TSA frequently asked questions

5. Check in early, skip the lines

To avoid long airport lines, check in and print your bag tags in advance. Then just drop your bag and go!

You can check in for your flight at alaskaair.com or on the Alaska Airlines mobile app up to 24 hours before departure. For international flights, you can enter your passport information online. You can also check in at airport kiosks and even many off-site locations.

Learn more: alaskaair.com/selftag

6. Spread that holiday cheer

Airport staff will do all they can to ensure that your travel is as hassle-free as possible. But the holidays are a busy time, and the airports will be filled with many people who fly just once or twice year. It may seem like a small thing, but a little kindness goes a long way.

“We’re very strategic about where we place people during the holiday rush. We look at the flow of traffic from the curb to baggage drop and then on to the security checkpoints, and make sure we have the right people in the right places and the right time,” says Hanson. “But, don’t forget to pack your patience.”

7. Watch, text and be merry

To keep your travel merry and bright, bring the device you’re most comfortable using and get ready to watch your favorite flick. Before you board, just download the Gogo Entertainment app (for mobile devices and tablets) to access nearly 600+ free movies and shows. We have several holiday classics, including “Elf” and “Home Alone” and “Die Hard.” Hoping for Hallmark Channel holiday movies? We’ve got those too, including “Switched for Christmas” and “Coming Home for Christmas.”

Last-minute holiday to-do’s? Connecting with loved ones? Texting doesn’t stop when you fly with us. Just connect to our inflight Wi-Fi and select “free texting.”

8. Get festive

You’re probably going to have to take your shoes off at the TSA security check. Add some “jolly” by showing off your favorite festive holiday socks.

Craving a seasonal beverage? Check out our recipe for a make-your-own holiday punch.

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