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Some of my fondest college memories arenât from going to homecoming games, attending my first college party or walking around campus when no one else was going to class.Â Some of my favorite memories are going home for winter break and seeing all my high school friends. Seeing old friends was always so fun, especially since we had all matured during the previous semester.Â Â
But getting home was another story. I went to college in Bloomington, Ind., a small college town where the university was the main attraction. That meant getting a flight back to my hometown of Memphis, Tenn. was always a struggle. I hated having to coordinate buses and flights while in the middle of finals.Â
Hereâs what I learned about booking flights home, so you donât have to struggle like I did.Â Â
The first step to saving on holiday travel is planning ahead. If you wait until the last minute to buy plane tickets, youâll probably pay more. You may even be completely out of luck and not find any flights that work for you.Â
You can sign up for travel alerts through Hipmunk.com, which aggregates flights from most major airlines. You can also look at Google flight alerts or sign up for emails for your favorite airline.Â Â
Learn about what airlines fly out of your hometownâs airport and what alternative routes there are. For example, if youâre struggling to find cheap flights coming out of Louisville, look at Cincinnati’s airport. You might have to get creative and look at airports you never consider.Â
According to the travel website Skyscanner, the best month to buy plane tickets for Christmas is in October. Yes, it might seem crazy to book tickets for winter break when the leaves are barely falling off the trees, but you could save lots of money.Â
Carpool with Other StudentsÂ
If youâre at a big university, you might find someone whoâs also traveling to your destination for the holidays. If you carpool with them, youâll save money on transportation while also dividing the driving time.Â
I did this a lot in college because I didnât have a car, but I only needed to travel a couple hours for Thanksgiving break. It was easy finding someone who was also going that way.Â Â
If youâre not traveling to a popular city, you should put out feelers ASAP. Make a shareable post on Facebook, put a physical notice in your dormâs common area or ask your college advisor if there are any official student carshare groups.Â
Look at BusesÂ
Even though the US isnât known for its public transportation system, buses can be a decent way to save money on travel if youâre going somewhere close. For example, you can find MegaBus tickets as little as $5 if you book way in advance. Some of these buses include WiFi and let you pick your seat beforehand.Â
Buses almost always take longer than driving, but are a good option if youâre on a budget and have time to kill. If youâre lucky, you can find a fellow student whoâs also traveling by bus and book your tickets together.Â Â
Compare Alternative DatesÂ
If youâre flying home for winter break, you probably have some leeway on when you arrive and when you need to leave. Being flexible on travel dates can save you a lot of money, especially during the holidays.Â
When you look at flights, you can often look at dates with one to three days of flexibility. Flights that leave or arrive on Tuesdays and Wednesdays are often less expensive than weekends. You should also use an incognito browser when you book tickets.Â
If you find an especially good deal that coincides with class, ask your professor if you can get an excused absence. Some may be ok with you taking a final early or if you miss the first day of classes for the new semester.Â
Again, ask your professors about this ahead of time. They may be more lenient if youâre asking in early November instead of the week before finals.Â
Use Credit Card PointsÂ
If you or your parents have a travel rewards credit card, see if they have enough points to book a flight. This works best if you book early, because flights often increase in price as the dates get closer.Â
Travel rewards programs all work differently so itâs good to compare offers before you book a flight. Your parents can book your flights using their account, or they can transfer points to your personal account. This doesnât work for every credit card, so call and ask if thereâs a way to do it for free. It may be easier to do if youâre an authorized user on the account.Â
Read the Fine PrintÂ
Nowadays airlines are trying to cut corners everywhere, by trimming seats and charging more for basic amenities. When you buy your flight, read through the ticket agreement to understand whatâs included and whatâs extra. In some cases, a carry-on bag costs extra just like a checked bag. But a checked bag may be cheaper than a carry-on.Â
If snacks arenât provided, bring your own beforehand. Also, try not to pack your bags completely full. If youâre like me, youâll have Christmas presents and new clothes to take back with you. And who wants to pay a $30 carry-on fee?Â Â
Understand What Your University ProvidesÂ
If youâre lucky, your college may have some free transportation options. For example, my university was in Bloomington, Ind., an hour away from Indianapolis. There was a free shuttle to the Indianapolis airport that left every two hours.Â
Thereâs also a student-only bus that goes from Indy to Chicago and Chicago-area suburbs. This is only available during the holidays and is very affordable.Â Â
The key to saving on holiday travel is to plan ahead, ask other people and do lots of research. You may discover someone in your dorm whoâs driving through your city on their home or someone who also takes the bus home.Â Â
The post How to Plan and Save on Holiday Travel appeared first on MintLife Blog.
One of the things Iâve missed quite a lot during our collective 2020 hiatus from traveling is my regular visits to my favorite airport lounges â particularly the collection of domestic American Express Centurion Lounges.
Iâve been a Platinum CardÂ® from American Express cardmember since the first Centurion Lounge opened in Las Vegas in 2013. And Iâm pretty sure that every year since â with the exception of this year, of course â Iâve consumed my cardâs annual feeâs worth in chocolate chip cookies and signature white mimosas while lounging between flights.
With Centurion lounges closed for the last seven months, Iâd begun to feel like my Platinum card was getting rusty. If lounges werenât going to open, and I wasnât going to start traveling again, Iâd even questioned if I was going to renew my card for 2021.
Then it happened. Last week I put on my mask and flew to Florida to see my family for the first time this year. Perhaps it was coincidence, or perhaps it was the American Express lounge gods smiling down on me, but I transited through Dallas the very morning that the Centurion Lounge in DFW reopened its blue doors.
Yes, friends, American Express has officially begun welcoming weary travelers to its lounges once again. Since October, lounges in Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia, Seattle and San Francisco have had staggered reopenings.
If youâve got an American Express Platinum Card in your wallet with plans to return to airports anytime soon, this is likely good news for you, too.
The Business Platinum CardÂ® from American ExpressÂ or theÂ Delta SkyMilesÂ®Â Reserve American Express Card.
If plans to transit a Centurion Lounge are in your future, you should also check American Expressâs Centurion Lounge reopening page for the latest details on each loungeâs current status and opening hours. From my own experience hereâs what you can expect.
See related: Coronavirus travel tips: How to travel during a pandemic
Limited capacity and social distance
Last year, before COVID-19, American Express had already started putting measures in place to cut down on the crowds in Centurion Lounges. Reopening has taken these measures to the next level, to make space for guests and to ensure social distancing.
To guarantee youâll get a place in the lounge on arrival, youâll want to make sure you have the American Express mobile app downloaded to your phone for contactless check-in. The app allows you to book your entry up to 30 minutes in advance, giving you a QR reservation code that youâll show with your ID and boarding pass.
For entry, and during your visit, masks are required for all guests â unless youâre eating or drinking (as is standard just to be in the airport). And every other seating area is blocked off to make space between passengers.
Food and drink
One of the reasons that the Centurion Lounge is normally my top choice over other domestic airline clubs is the great hot food and premium drink options.
Iâm happy to report that although the buffet has gone the way of 1986 as expected, the food options were still fresh and delicious. For breakfast, there were green juices and hot egg scrambles. And it was southern creamed corn and grilled brussels sprouts for lunch.
In the DFW lounge, food was plated by servers at your request, and both table service and bar service were available for ordering drinks from the bar. The bar itself was fully stocked and still offering its normal menu of signature drinks.
I have to say that I was pretty impressed how theyâd kept the level of food and drink quality dialed in while adhering to all the new sanitation and social distancing standards.
Another small change in the lounge is that some of the business services have shifted. Conference rooms are still available, but youâll need to make a reservation to use the room to ensure it is cleaned between guests.
If youâre like me and really like using the printer to catch up on work in the lounge, youâll be happy to know that this is still available. The community computers, however, have been removed.
See related: American Express Rewards guide
While not all of the Centurion Lounges are equipped with an Exhale Spa, complimentary neck massages and express manicures have always been a highlight of the DFW lounge.
I was very surprised to find, on arriving to the lounge, that alternative spa services including meditation space and touchless Theragun massages are on offer in the reopening. I tried my own hand in the massage chair with the Therabody Travel Fatigue massage and it actually felt pretty good.
The whole experience of returning to lounge life felt pretty good, in fact. Sure, traveling still feels different and a little bit strange, but itâs definitely nice to see things open back up safely while providing high quality service.
If youâre looking for me in the airport, you know where Iâll be. And yes, Iâll be keeping my Platinum card for another year â I think it will be worth it.