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How to Survive—and Not Go Broke—When Stranded in an Airport

The busiest travel season on record has begun and will last through Jan. 5. An estimated 47.5 million passengers will fly on U.S. airlines according to experts—up 3% from last year. Throw weather into the equation and your chances of getting stranded while waiting for a flight increase immeasurably.

If you’ve ever set foot in an airport, you know what a ripoff that place can be if you have to buy basic necessities while you wait for a flight. The delay alone is going to feel like you’re out of luck, but your lack of planning can quickly take you out of money, too.

A woman sitting on a bench

Over the years, having traveled more than 1.5 million miles myself and spending more than a few nights in an airport—I’ve learned that it’s easy and super smart to prepare and anticipate the inevitable.

Here are my best tips for surviving an extended stay in an airport.

Part of your plan

Assume you will be delayed. Just plan on it. Then if you are not, what a nice bonus. But always prepare with an extended delay in mind.

These 7 things

Always carry these seven things with you. Every airline allows you at least one free carry-on bag. Make sure it includes:

Snacks

Of course, if you are stranded for a long time, you’ll be forced to buy airport food, ka-ching! But statistically, your delay will be short—a few hours—so the healthy snacks you are carrying will be more than sufficient.

Empty water bottle

I would rather shove toothpicks under my fingernails than pay $4 or more for a bottle of water in the airport gift shop. Make sure you have an empty water bottle in your carry-on bag, then once through Security, fill it up at a water fountain or bottle filling station which most airports have now,

Toothbrush and toothpaste

Sleeping in an airport is bad enough. Waking up with dry, morning mouth is even worse. Brushing your teeth might not fix the plane situation right away, but it will do wonders for your attitude.

Extra underwear

It’s an easy thing to tuck into your bag. Trust me on this. Keep a pair with you. Cleaning up after a long night will make your day so much better.

Sweatshirt or travel blanket

Airports are notorious for being cold, especially late at night. If you must sleep, you’re going to want something warm and comfy.

Phone charger

Of course, you need this with you. Consider an extra fully charged battery, too. The phone charging areas will be crowded and the outlets overloaded if more than a plane or two has been grounded.

Something to do

A good book, crossword puzzles, sudoku—anything that will help pass the time, not require an electronic device, and help you escape the situation at hand.

Know your rights

Airlines operate under a cadre of rules—many of them having to do with passenger rights. But they’re also granted many leeways when it comes to delays. For example, the federal government doesn’t require airlines to offer any compensation for a delayed flight.

Vouchers

Even though it may not be required by law, many airlines will offer vouchers for food, hotel, and taxi—but you need to ask. It’s considered good customer service, so speak up.

Bumped!

If you are involuntarily bumped because your flight is overbooked—and you arrive more than two hours late, you may be eligible for four times the price of your ticket up to $1,350. Learn more about how to collect on that here. Good idea: Print these guidelines and keep them in your carry-on bag.

Check your credit card

The one you used to purchase your ticket. Some offer reimbursement for travel delays, so keep your receipts. There will be stipulations, like food and lodging up to $500 if delayed longer than six hours. Know this stuff before you go. You will feel so much more in control when things go sideways at an airport.

Be courteous

As you deal with airline and airport personnel, remember they want to get home for the holidays, too. It’s no fun for them when flights get canceled and airports are jam-packed with angry passengers, all of them waiting for the weather to clear. There is nothing that your yelling or getting upset will do to hasten a solution to this situation, so just be patient. And nice.

Get some sleep

If you know you can’t get out until tomorrow or many hours from now, find a place you can get some sleep. Sleeping in airports is a website where travelers share their experiences and advice with fellow airport sleepers. You’ll discover some really cool—even fun—stuff about airports and exact places no one else knows about where you can get some sleep! And set an alarm on your phone. Trust me on this. No one is going to hunt you down to wake you up for your new flight!


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With Airline Miles You Need to Do This So They Don’t Expire

If you willingly pay an annual fee for a credit card that earns air miles (most reward cards do come with a hefty price), you might want to re-think that decision. The problem is airlines are changing the rules to shorten the time before miles expire. So sneaky! But for now, you need to protect those precious miles you’ve accumulated.

A woman standing on the floor

Sneaky notification

It looked like junk mail but for some reason, I opened the envelope from United Airlines. Turns out it wasn’t junk, but I have a sneaky suspicion whoever designed this mailer hoped I’d toss it in the shredder.

Inside the envelope was notification that my 38,000 MileagePlus miles would expire on New Year’s Eve if I didn’t activate my account by adding more miles to it before the stroke of midnight. Quite frankly, in the hustle and bustle of the season, booking a flight just so I could log a few more miles wasn’t exactly on my Christmas list.

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17 Really Fun Tricks and Tips Every Traveler Needs to Know

I love to travel, which is my favorite unintended consequence of becoming an author, speaker, and blogger.

I’ve learned that travel always involves challenges. That’s why I have adopted an attitude that no matter how well I’ve planned if something can go wrong it probably will. And if it doesn’t? That’s my travel bonus.

A piece of luggage

Over the years I’ve collected a bunch of really great travel tips—some fun, some crazy but all of them very useful if only to avoid a headache or two. Here are favorites:

Backup critical info

Before you leave, scan the front and back of every item in your wallet including your passport. Email the images to yourself. Now you’ll always have a digital copy handy in case you lose something. This will not substitute for your passport, ID or credit card, but you’ll have all of the pertinent information you need to keep going.

Make a list

Sounds so elementary. Mental lists are great, but a written list is there to keep things together when stress sets in the way it does right before its time to leave. I make a list of items I don’t want to forget—which I know from experience that I WILL forget if I don’t write them down. When I think of something, I need to write it down.

Pre-plan outfits

Take the time to plan what you’ll wear then pack in outfits—specifically. Write it down! You’ll be so glad you have this wardrobe plan in writing once you get to your destination or move from one accommodation to the next. You won’t be happy when you discover you brought 4 pairs of black pants but only two tops. What were you thinking?

Roll it

Instead of folding your clothes, roll them tightly. They’ll take up less space in your luggage and that can save having to pay extra baggage fees. Read more

Look at All the Hidden Benefits in Your AAA Membership

When I pulled out my AAA membership card to get a discount for Universal Hollywood tickets, I locked eyeballs with “Years as Member: 43” printed on the card. I nearly passed out.

That seemed absolutely impossible until I did a little mental calculation. It’s true. AAA has been an important part of my life for more than four decades.

If you are a member of AAA, it’s likely that you depend on it to get you out of an automotive bind with a roadside jumpstart, a gallon of gas or a tow.

And so you know, they also come to the rescue should you ever lock your keys in the car. Or a sleeping baby. Let’s just say that AAA has saved my bacon on more than one occasion.

 

A baby sitting in a car

AAA membership has so many other benefits that just roadside assistance—some I’ve taken advantage of in the past, but many others I didn’t even know about.

If you’re a member, perhaps you’ll be surprised too by all of the hidden benefits in your membership.

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9 Incredibly Simple Hacks to Take Stress Out of Flying

Flying this week? You won’t be alone. TSA estimates a record 46 million people will be joining you in domestic airports and on airplanes, which will beat all records in holiday air travel.

crowded-airplane

It goes without saying that you need to get to the airport early. But this week, double the time you might normally allow to arrive, get through security, and to your gate.

Beyond that, check out these tips and tricks to make your experience less stressful. After all, you do want to arrive with joy in your heart and kind words on your lips.

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