Updated: Dec 2, 2019
And just like that, the most wonderful time of year is upon us. While the thought of being reunited with friends and family brings on the warms & fuzzies, the thought of astronomical fares, last-minute bookings and crowded airplanes knocks you right back down to earth. But never fear! There are tons of tools out there designed specifically to take as much stress out of planning holiday travel as possible, even when everyone else is doing it too. Here are some of my favorite resources to use when I'm heading home for the holidays.
This nifty iPhone app analyzes and tracks flight prices to help you save the maximum amount of money. You select your route and dates and Hopper will continuously track prices for your trip and send you alerts instructing you either to wait because ticket prices are likely to drop, or book now before prices rise.
2. Expert Flyer
The free version of this website/app lets you set alerts so that you'll be notified if a certain seat type opens up on your flight. For example, you've booked the most convenient flight for where you're trying to go, but by the time you got your ticket there were only dreaded middle seats left. With ExpertFlyer you can select either a specific seat on your flight or just a general seat type (window, aisle, exit row, etc.) and the program will monitor seats right up until the flight departs and notify you if anything changes and your selected seat(s) become available. There is also a paid subscription option that allows you to set multiple seat alerts at once, access detailed seat maps, view award and upgrade availability on a particular flight, and more. Subscriptions start at $4.99/month.
While this one seems pretty self explanatory, I always make Google Flights one of my first stops when I'm searching for flights. I love how you can quickly view the lowest prices between two destinations for an entire month at a time, since it allows me to instantly see what day of a particular week is likely to be cheapest to fly. Google Flights also tells you if the price of a flight you're looking at is high, low, or typical, so you can decide if you should keep searching for a better deal. Plus, keep your eyes peeled for a new feature that's currently being tested called price guarantee. On certain flights where Google feels confident that their algorithms have found the lowest price that will be offered for that ticket, if the price does indeed still drop below what you paid at the time of booking, Google will refund the difference up to $500. Not super likely to pan out on most flights, but worth knowing about.
SeatGuru is a website that provides aircraft seat maps, seat reviews, and has its own color-coded system that identifies superior and sub-standard seats. It's true that not all airplane seats are created equal, and it appears that seat comfort seems to vary considerably by airline and aircraft. When searching by airline and aircraft, you can see up front which seats may have hidden disadvantages such as a window seat in premium economy that doesn't actually have a window next to it, or a last row seat on a long-haul flight that can't actually recline because it's backed up against a wall. So next time you're choosing between rows, save yourself the headache (literally) and do some re-con on your prospective seat.
FlightAware is a flight tracking platform that uses data from air traffic control systems for the most accurate flight information. While it's always a good idea to sign up for alerts from your chosen airline, communications are often delayed or sent out infrequently. Whether I'm heading to the airport to pick someone up or I'm the one taking to the skies, I find that FlightAware has the most up-to-date and to-the-minute information on things like delays, early arrivals, and gate/terminal changes. You can search by Airline + Flight #, or Departure + Arrival cities, so tracking any flight is super simple and only requires basic information.
And there you have it! With the help of these handy dandy tools you'll be strolling on to your sold out flight with the relaxed look of a person who didn't even cry once when making their travel plans. Happy holidays friends!