I put that question to dozens of experienced business travelers, as well as people who make their living planning travel for clients. Here are the top travel tips they suggested.
1. Bring something for the flight crew.
Peter Shankman calls this his $8 Flight Upgrade Trick--bringing a big bag of candy, so you have something nice to share with the flight attendants. Seriously, what other passenger does this? Thanks to Karl Sakas, of Sakas & Company, for reminding me of this one. He says he's done it on every flight for over a year.
"It puts everyone in a better mood, especially amidst delayed flights and packed planes," Sakas said.
2. Check business and economy plus.
If you're on a budget, you probably only search for coach class flights. Usually, that makes sense, but during the holidays, there might be fewer business travelers--which can occasionally drop the price of business and economy class seats.
"Certain times of year, or routes that are new or not performing well, airlines will sell upgraded seats for a song!" advises John Clifford, a professional travel advisor.
3. Check one-way fares, and combine them.
Round-trip tickets are the easiest to book--but they're not always the least expensive, or even the most convenient.
"Consider purchasing two one-ways," suggests Janet Alvarez, personal finance expert at Wise Bread, "since during busy holiday travel times it can pay to mix and match carriers and routes."
4. Got a problem? Take it to Twitter.
If you don't travel much, maybe you wouldn't think to do this, but the days of calling customer service and waiting in line with the rest of the unwashed masses are gone.
"Missed a connection? Got bumped? Tweet at the airline for help. Most major carriers have customer service reps monitoring Twitter, so it's a quick and easy way to reach out and get help for what you need," suggests Emily Bernard, co-founder of PlacePass.
5. Sign up for frequent flyer programs--even if you never use them.
Maybe you're not a frequent flyer, but you should still sign up for their programs when you travel. Even if your accrued mileage stands at zero, at least you'll represent the possibility of future business, in the event you have an issue or a request.
"Business travelers can do what they can to gain any level of status with the airline. Even just having a frequent traveler number is better than not having one at all," suggests Craig Fichtelberg, president of AmTrav Corporate Travel.
6. Fly on Christmas Day (or other big holidays).
Yes, travel is crowded during the holidays--but often not on the actual holidays themselves. So if you don't mind arriving "day of," you can save stress and money.
"Travelers that are spooked by crowds should fly on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day, historically when the fewest flights are booked," advises Kelly Soderlund, spokesperson for Hipmunk. "They should also steer clear of ... December 22 to 23, when crowds peak."
7. Fly almost-private.
Much like flying business class, the idea of a private jet might seem way out of reach for many infrequent or family travelers. But there are some newer, industry disruptive options you might want to check out.
"For West Coast travelers, JetSuiteX is usually price-competitive with discount carriers like Southwest. It's a semi-private flight," says Mike Catania, chief technology officer of PromotionCode, adding that he's just a customer--not affiliated with JetSuiteX.
8. Focus on on-time arrival records.
Nothing makes flying more stressful than missing a connection, or when your flight shows up super-late. The four airlines with the best on-time arrival records, advises Taj Bates, founder of The YOLO Guide to Travel, are Delta, United, Alaska, and Hawaiian.
"If you haven't booked your ticket yet, and you plan to fly in the U.S., book with an airline that has both a high on-time arrival rate and low cancellation rate, even in winter," Bates suggests.
9. Plan for a treat during delays.
Just in case you are delayed, and stuck in an airport, however, it helps if you can plan ahead so you have something to look forward to.
"Save a long-awaited season finale or movie to watch only when your flight or trip is delayed, refocusing your brain on something positive," advises Shawn Achor, author of the New York Times best seller, The Happiness Advantage.
10. Minimize TSA time.
The folks at the Transportation Security Administration have a tough job, but that doesn't make it more pleasant for those of us waiting in line. So work on reducing the time you have to spend at security.
"Wear shoes that are comfortable (the lines get pretty long) and can easily be removed and put back on. Don't bring any large bottles of lotion or liquids with you. ... Avoid belts, jewelry except your wedding ring or anything with metal accents," reminds Pamela Shand, CEO of Offer Stage Consulting.
11. Skip all the travel gear.
There's a ton of advice out there about the travel gear you might buy. Tanja Hester's idea? Skip it all.
"Unless you're traveling super long haul, you don't need a $50 neck pillow or $300 noise canceling headphones. Bring some foam earplugs if you want to sleep on the plane, and roll up your jacket for a pillow. Same comfort for a lot less money," says Hester, a writer at Our Next Life early retirement blog, and veteran of "100+ flights a year and 80+ hotel nights."
12. Organize your travel details online.
"Having been on nearly 100 flights this past year I always make sure to have my travel details organized in one place. ... I use an app called Tripit," says Matt Jung, co-CEO/co-founder of Comfort Research. "It [also] never hurts to note what room number you are in or parking place you left your car. I just take a quick picture on my phone."
13. Ship gifts to your final destination.
"Not only is it a hassle to carry extra bags, but it's costly. Most airlines charges $25 for the first checked bag and $35 for the second," advises Andrea Woroch, consumer finance expert and media strategy consultant. "Not to mention, you may be facing an average $50 penalty for any overweight bags."
14. Check in ahead of time.
"Check in for your flight online or through your airline's app and get your boarding pass printed out before you arrive to the airport to better stay on track," which means you can often skip the check-in and go right to security, advises Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com.
15. Keep a back up of your important documents.
"Take a photo of [important] documents and easily put them in Last Pass. ... [I]f you lose your wallet you then at least have all of this info on your phone or have access to it on a computer (you just have to login to your Last Pass account)," suggests Chelsea Brinkley, founder of Travel Brinkley.
16. Know how much your luggage weighs.
Overweight luggage costs, along with just about every other nickel and dime fee, have gone through the roof. So if you haven't traveled a ton lately, don't get caught.
"Invest in an inexpensive digital baggage scale," suggests Rafael Romis of Weberous. "It is especially useful if you are planning to do any shopping while you're on your trip or if you think you're going to receive a lot of Christmas gifts that might weigh your bag down."
17. Try not to check any luggage.
Maybe this doesn't always seem possible--but if you can figure a way to bring everything in your carryon luggage, do it.
"With the right luggage and the use of compression bags it's actually quite easy," says Stephanie, founder of The Scenic Suitcase. "Even on longer trips (like when I traveled to Australia and Indonesia for 3 weeks this year) I had no problem fitting everything and still having room for souvenirs!"
18. Stay hydrated and then some...
More than half of the human body is made of water, and it's really easy to become dehydrated while traveling. So drink plenty of water, both during your flight and before it.
"In the days leading up to travel, adding raw turmeric in your diet can help avoid headaches when flying, with its powerful anti-inflammatory properties," says Marra St. Clair, co-founder of Project Juice. "Once you arrive at your destination, if possible, add in green juices that contain celery, which naturally helps restore electrolyte balance. Also incorporate sparkling water for electrolyte replacement."
19. If you're traveling with a dog...
Our last three tips are about travel on highways, rather than in the air. If you're traveling with a pet, Jackie Murphy (no relation to me) of Puppy Kisses, an online dog boutique, says to check out whether local laws contain any unexpected requirements while transporting pets.
"For example New Jersey police can stop and fine anyone they determine to be incorrectly transporting a pet in a car and the fine is not cheap! Fines start at $250 and go as high as $1,000," she says. Also, "do not feed your dog a lot before the trip or while driving as they are prone to motion sickness."
20. Add an hour to however long you think the drive will take.
No matter how much time you think your driving trip will take, it's probably going to take more than last time--both due to holiday traffic and the fact that roads are simply more congested than they were even a year ago.
"Consider how much time you have in the past given yourself ... and add an hour (possibly more). Remember that 'rush hour' has greatly expanded," advises Eileen P. Gunn of FamiliesGo!. "Be sure to check Waze or Google Maps ... and weigh the real time of various routes given traffic congestion."
21. Finally, a highway driving expert.
Finally, here are the things that all those tractor trailer drivers on the highway wish you'd take into consideration.
"Don't tailgate. Did you know that it can take a tractor trailer the length of a football field to come to a stop in good weather?" says Wayne Crowder of FedEx Freight in Louisville, a three-time National Truck Driving Championship driver with a 35-year professional driving career. "Also, respect the blind spots."
Got another great travel tip? Let us know! Suggest it in the comments below.