Buy your plane ticket today! And 7 other last-minute holiday travel hacks

Hey, things could be worse at the airport.

In a rush to see your son’s pizza-themed cover band this holiday season? These tips will help.

Once upon a time in 2012, my bus ride home was snowed out. Greyhound invited all the passengers on its five Toronto-to-NYC buses to arrive at dawn to compete for standby seats. What a happy holiday! Instead, I found a flight. But when I asked Greyhound about a refund I was redirected from Toronto, to corporate, to the NYC branch, with nothing resolved. I bought the flight, which was overbooked, as was the next flight I was transferred to.

These are the moments when it pays to be a scrappy, native New Yorker with some travel hacks on autopilot. After a little persistence, I was having a free dinner, lounging in my comped hotel’s sauna, and sent two carefully worded emails to get a refund from Greyhound. It’s important to know the weak spots in the travel system. These tips are quick, easy things you all can do to save some dough and keep last-minute travel feeling holly and jolly.

TICKETS PLEASE

Your ticket won't be golden but it might at least not cost you a mint.

Your ticket won’t be golden but it might at least not cost you a mint.

Buy Your Plane Tickets TODAY!

In this bustling city, it’s easy to fall behind on things like buying your plane tickets. The cheap seats are likely long gone, according this year’s study of 4 million flights by CheapAir.com. It found the low point for pricing to be 54 days before departure. The price should steadily go up after that, but it really accelerates once you’re within 14 days of your flight.

You better watch out: Today (12/11) is 14 days before Santa Claus is coming to town. It’s time to lock down those seats.

Want $1 Megabus tickets?

Want to score one of the much advertised $1 Megabus tickets? Well, too late. Set your alarm for 90 days before your trip next time. Tisn’t the season to snag one of these for winter.

But you can think warm thoughts and gift yourself a $1 trip for spring. People do sell their tickets on Craigslist, but it’s probably always a scam, as a few online horror stories attest. Just like with anything scalped, someone could easily provide a cancelled or fake receipt, or sell one ticket to multiple people, so be careful.

PACKING

The holidays are a particularly difficult time to pack. More clothes are needed due to the cold. Plus, there are gifts to consider. This often requires checking bags, which means exorbitant fees and the potential for grandma’s gift to somehow end up on a flight to Bermuda. But if you pack like a pro, those potentialities can be eliminated, or at least reduced by saving space in four ways.

Avoid overpacking

The hotel or home you’re headed to is not likely to be the dense squalor in which we reside; there will be a washer and dryer. It’s safe to underpack and then wash and re-wear outfits. After all, Grandpa isn’t a Grinch. You’re likely returning with gifts and could use all the extra space can could get.

It’s what’s underneath that counts

Replace jackets and heavy sweaters with thermals or light sweaters you can layer. The form fitting clothes bicyclists and runners use are fantastically thin and light while keeping you toasty. The snowy season can upend one’s quest for lean luggage by requiring bulkier items like boots. In that case, wear the heavier apparel to the airport.

Pack like a pilot

Roll, don't foll. Via NYT.

Roll, don’t foll. Via NYT.

Roll your clothes instead of folding them. The amount of space it saves varies based on what clothing you’re packing, but it is legitimately one weird trick that pilots and flight attendants swear by. Research on the subject is scant, but the photos comparing the two are pretty convincing.

Ziplock bags come in various sizes that can be used to organize and compress items together, while keeping them dry, making any secondary inspection during the security screening a breeze.

For carry ons, bag > suitcase

As flight attendants oft repeat, “Please, place your [two] bags, in the overhead compartment or under the seat in front of you.” If you have more than two bags, then you’re likely to have a bag checked. However, if your bags are small enough that you can combine them in a tote or department store bag, it’s more likely to make it through unchecked.

That’s because the bag can change shape as you cram it in, unlike an overstuffed suitcase. That said, don’t overdo it by taking up all the space, folks.

BEFORE TAKEOFF

“Lose” your unlimited Metrocard

Unlimited, 30-day Metrocards are obviously a cheaper cost per ride than paying as you go. But when you go out of town for a week or two, you’re basically making a donation to the MTA. Would you get a day pass at a theme park if you could only go on rides for one hour? [Note: this is only a tip we’re suggesting if you’re really, really hard-up on cash for the holiday season.]

If you didn’t use up your MetroCard before heading on vacation, the MTA will compensate you at a rate of $3.74/day if you report your MetroCard lost/stolen – no questions asked – twice per year. The folks who do the refunding are around during working hours at (718) 330-1234.

Use the “Kindly Brontosaurus” for delays and cancellations

Be a kindly brontosaurus; not the jerk ankylosaurus.

Be a kindly brontosaurus; not the jerk ankylosaurus.

If a flight gets delayed or cancelled, the folks who can be assertive (but not aggressive!) benefit the most. The Kindly Brontosaurus, as described in Slate this year, is a technique that involves being persistent, stating your predicament and then hovering nearby like the vegetarian brontosaurus; kindly, nonthreatening, looming large in an agent’s vision, and not accepting scripted, brief overtures.

Don’t become extinct. It is your best chance to get onto the flight, or at least get refunded.