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Often times, flying during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is even more overwhelming than getting locked into conversation with your weird uncle at the dinner table. As one of the busiest travel times of the year, both the expected and the unexpected can happen. Yet advanced planning can make air travel go smoother. We reached out to travel experts for advice on making your journey home as welcoming as your relatives hopefully are.

RELATED: A guide to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade—by the numbers

Flex your dates

Often the best Thanksgiving travel deals involve booking by Labor Day. Generally, the longer you wait, the more you’ll likely pay. Also, try to be flexible on scheduling dates. Orbitz.com makes this easy with its flexible search function (just click the “My dates are flexible” box under the dates on the Flights search page). According to Johnny Jet, founder of travel tips site JohnnyJet.com, the worst days to fly are the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the following Sunday and Monday. “They’re the most full, hectic and expensive,” he says. “Fly on the Monday or Tuesday before and the Friday, Tuesday or Wednesday after [Thanksgiving],” if you can.

Fly on Thanksgiving

Flying on Thanksgiving Day is an even cheaper option. “Typically, this day has less people traveling,” says airline industry expert Kerwin McKenzie. “I think most travelers are wising up and actually traveling on Thanksgiving morning now. If there are no delays, you’re fine, but you’re taking a great risk of missing the turkey.” Jet notes that on Thanksgiving day, flights usually cost less in the late afternoon or evening.

Consider smaller airports

Smaller airports can be a nice alternative to major hubs if they have a reasonable selection of flights and are close enough to major cities. Other pluses can involve fewer delays, shorter lines and easier parking. “However, these advantages really only apply to non-stop flights,” says Laura Longwell founder of the blog Travel Addicts. “If you fly from a smaller airport and connect through a hub, you add complexity to your itinerary and risk adding additional problems including missed flight connections and lost luggage.”

rent a car before thanksgiving

Book your ride early

If you need to rent a car, go to an online travel agency such as Orbitz.com to compare rates between companies; weigh if it’s better to opt for off-site locations versus airport pick up. Also, see about applying related memberships such as AARP or AAA or military discounts. “Rent now as opposed to waiting for it to get closer to the holiday,” says McKenzie. “[Rental cars] will either be sold or a bit more expensive.”

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Figure out where to park—if you park

Depending on where you live, Uber might be the most affordable way to get you to and from the airport. If not, look into both long-term airport parking and off-airport parking options, and figure out the best value based on factors like price and proximity to airports. “Off-airport private parking lots can save you both time and money during the holidays,” says Longwell. “Airport parking, even remote economy parking, is rarely advantageous for travelers. Private lots are usually priced competitively to the airport’s own long-term economy lot, but you get the advantage of door-to-car service as well as other extras.” Search off-airport parking websites to book ahead.

Enroll in TSA Pre✓

If you can’t enroll in this government program (which assigns expedited security screening for domestic air travel) prior to Turkey Day, then schedule a future appointment as a gift to yourself. Clearance is good for five years and costs only $85. Fill out an online application and pay the fee (Orbitz Rewards Platinum members get Pre✓ for free—more on that here). You’ll then schedule a short appointment with a federal representative, and upon approval will be designated a Known Travel Number that’s good for five years. In the TSA Pre✓ lane, you don’t have to remove any liquids, your shoes or laptop from your carry-on.

ALSO: With Orbitz Rewards, the travel perks are just gravy—join for free today!

Go CLEAR

Created by a technology company, CLEAR also aims to get pre-approved travelers through security faster, but does so by using biometrics like eye scans and fingerprints instead of documents. The program costs $179 annually and is currently offered in major airports. “You will be able to walk up to the machine and scan your eyes or fingerprints,” says Valerie Joy Wilson, founder of travel blog Trusted Travel Girl. “After getting the OK, an attendant will escort you to the front of your [security] line.”

Get your baggage in order

If you have to wait in the standard security line, then make the screening process easier for both you and TSA agents by better organizing your bag. “Make it easy on yourself and have your laptop and 3-1-1 [liquids] bag in your carry-on so you don’t have to start up-zipping the main compartment,” suggests TSA spokesperson Sari Koshetz.

bringing pie to airport

Learn your food basics

Itching to bring some pie or cranberry sauce back home? TSA security guidelines do cover Thanksgiving foods and you can check their web site to see what can be carried on board and what has to be checked. Turkey, cakes and pies can fly, while canned goods might require additional screening before going through. Gravy and cranberry sauce have to be in less than 3.4-ounce containers, so maybe make them when you get there or buy them at the supermarket instead.

Give the gift of openness

Want to bring a gift for Grandma or your newest niece or nephew? Let TSA see what you’re giving first. A wrapped item can be seen through X-ray machines, but Koshetz suggests wrapping it upon arrival, “just in case we have to have any additional testing on the item, such as for explosives. We might have to unwrap it.”

Know your luggage limits

Generally, passengers are allowed one carry-on and one personal item on board. If you have a lot to carry, Jet advises to double check on your airline’s luggage size and weight limits; bring a spare lightweight duffel bag to avoid fees in the event your suitcase turns out to be overweight.

Pack as a family

If you must check a bag, “consider splitting stuff up between family members traveling with you,” says Longwell. “That way, you each have some of each other’s clothes; if the airline loses a bag, you are still covered,” at least with some bare essentials.

Stay calm but alert with cancellation

Delays or cancelled flights might happen. If a storm could impact your trip, Jet says to read your airline’s re-booking policy, add their customer service number to your phone, and download their app to receive flight notifications and re-book flights if needed. “You really want to be proactive since there’s not that many empty seats,” he says. If your flight gets cancelled, go to the agent counter and/or try calling the airline if there’s a long line. McKenzie advises to make sure that the airline has your contact info in your reservation, so they can reach you, too. “If you can snag a free ticket or funds from the airline, take it. They will usually give you a hotel and/or meal voucher if you have to spend the night” for non-weather related delays, he adds.

Tagged: Feature

Note: Orbitz compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site.

Michele Herrmann

Michele Herrmann

Michele writes about women's travel, destinations, culinary, and cultural topics for various outlets and has ventured as far as Fiji, to date. She also muses her tales on She Is Going Places.

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