Air Travel

How to Make the Airport Less Stressful This Holiday Season

From free Clear memberships to cheap lounge access, here's how to make flying smoother during the year-end crunch.
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As the holiday travel season officially kicks off with flight prices trending higher than normal, every step of air travel can seem daunting. So it’s no surprise that passengers are more stressed than ever about flying for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

A new study from Kayak shows that 70 percent of Americans who will be taking to the skies this season are stressed by all the challenges that the busy airports will bring, including flight delays and long lines. But there are plenty of ways to help lessen the airport woes without shelling out tons of money, if you know where to look.

Some companies are stepping up to help ease the anxiety. Kayak, for one, is offering passengers a free three-month trial of Clear Plus to speed through crowds at security checkpoints—all you have to do is sign up through the travel search engine's link before the end of the year. “Flying over the holidays this year is going to be busy and expensive, so we wanted to make it as easy and affordable as possible for travelers to get to their final destinations,” Kayak’s vice president of marketing for North America Matt Clarke said in a statement.

Speeding through security is just one of the cost- and time-saving strategies that can help make the holidays at the airports feel like a breeze. Here, we round up some of the best hacks to make flying smoother during the year-end crunch.

Get a free three-month Clear membership

When security lines snake through the terminals, TSA PreCheck can feel like a blessing. The screening process goes so much faster without having to remove shoes, belts, laptops, and the like. But Clear provides practically direct access to the conveyor belt since it skips the step of showing the agent your ticket and ID by using biometric data to quickly confirm your identity. Then a Clear ambassador will whisk you directly to the front of the line at more than 45 participating airports.

With Kayak’s partnership, new Clear Plus members can get a free three-month trial of the service now through December 31, 2022. After that period, the membership will auto renew for $189 a year, but travelers have the opportunity to cancel anytime before the trial ends. (Full terms are available here.)

The airport isn’t the only place Clear membership can get you to the front of the line—the service also includes a designated lane at select entertainment venues, sport stadiums, and car rental agencies.

Sign up for TSA PreCheck for less

While the cost of so many goods and services are going up, the price for TSA PreCheck has—surprisingly—gone down. Earlier this month, the TSA announced that it was lowering its enrollment fee from $85 for five years to $78. (The renewal fee remains $70.)

“For individuals and families with plans to fly this holiday season, now is the time to enroll or renew in TSA PreCheck,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a release. “TSA PreCheck offers significant benefits to those who meet its enrollment standards—less physical contact, fewer items on the conveyor belt, and faster screening.” (We recommend signing up for TSA PreCheck to complement the free trial with Clear. That way, you'll go directly to the front of the quickest security line.)

Book a spot in the general security line

If you'd rather not sign up for PreCheck or Clear, you still don't need to wait in snaking airport lines. Clear has another option for skipping TSA wait times: Reserve is a service that lets travelers reserve a time slot in the general security line before they get to the airport, and at no cost. Then, all you have to do is arrive at your designated time, and show your QR code to head right to the “Reserve” line. Each reservation is held for a 20-minute window, so if there are minor snags along the way, you’ll still have your spot in line—without actually having to stand in line.

The program is currently available at a dozen North American airports—Charleston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York’s JFK, Newark Liberty, Orlando, Phoenix, and Seattle in the U.S., and Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, and Vancouver in Canada—as well as three European airports: Amsterdam, Berlin, and Munich.

Access airport lounges—at a discount

Holiday season at the airport usually means gates are so packed that people are often sprawled across the terminal floor. No matter what airline you’re flying, a Priority Pass will get you access to more than 1,300 lounges around the globe. To celebrate the company’s 30th anniversary, they've already launched their Black Friday sale with discounted memberships through December 4.

The Standard membership, which is usually $99, is now 30 percent off at $69 and will allow the cardholder and a guest to visit its member lounges for $32 per person per visit (the fee goes up to $35 on December 1). The Standard Plus tier, normally $299 is now 20 percent off at $239, and includes 10 free visits for the member. (The Prestige level with unlimited lounge visits for $429 a year is not discounted.)

The lounge is not only the perfect airport escape for the extra space, but also the free food and drinks (a glass of wine will surely calm the holiday travel nerves!), as well as bathrooms with fewer crowds. Some lounges also offer other amenities, like showers, yoga rooms, work stations, and outdoor space.

Get a surprise gate transfer by SUV

Quick layovers no longer mean Home Alone-like sprints through the terminal. Now you can ride comfortably between gates—and in style. United and Jaguar North America launched a free gate-to-gate transfer service last month in electric 2023 Jaguar I-PACE HSE vehicles. The SUV service has started at Chicago O’Hare, and will roll out to Denver, Houston, Newark, Washington D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles by the end of the year.

Once in place, the cars will make 60 daily trips, moving 1,000 passengers between their flights. The service will be offered as a surprise perk to select MileagePlus Premier members who have tight connections. Qualified members will find out about their free ride when they land and are met by a Premier Services agent, who will take them to the SUV and to their onward flight.

Check your credit card benefits

It may be a good time to brush up on what benefits come with your credit card—after all, most include some travel perks, and there may be new benefits you may not even know about. For instance, Capital One Venture, Chase Sapphire Reserve, and American Express Platinum Card all reimburse for TSA PreCheck and Global Entry fees, while Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card holders get priority boarding. Many cards also come with perks for ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber to help get you to the airport with ease.