Tips to ease holiday travel planning
By Marnie Hunter
(CNN) -- The surge of excitement many travelers feel when planning a trip tends to fall flat when it comes to making holiday travel arrangements.
After all, for many the big draw is family and friends -- rather than the destination -- and getting to those loved ones among the throngs is a yearly ritual most people would rather forget.
There are a few strategies to keep in mind to ease travel during the holiday season. CNN asked Paul Eisenberg of Fodor's travel guides and Amy Ziff, Travelocity's editor at large, for some planning tips.
"For the holiday travel period, I always say earlier is better," Ziff said.
Waiting until the last minute to buy airlines tickets is ill-advised if you're traveling to see family in the rush periods around Thanksgiving and Christmas without a lot of flexibility of dates and times.
"It's been my experience that you're just going to hem yourself in on last-minute fares," Eisenberg said.
For deals on airfares Ziff recommends looking at low-fare carriers on routes where they are competing with the major airlines. The competition keeps prices down despite increased fuel costs.
Evaluating the host's expectations will help travelers make plans that are convenient and acceptable to all parties.
"I feel this is key because I think people assume that their families are going to want them at the house at a certain time," Eisenberg said.
"But as your family grows and your considerations change, I think you would find it's certainly acceptable to arrive a few hours later, or even a day later."
Check alternate dates, times, airports
Flexibility is key to getting a good value and avoiding some of the crowds. Eisenberg advises travelers to consider flying on holidays. While this tactic may take some time away from the main event, it's likely to cut down on hassles. Those not wild about traveling on the big day should still consider shifting travel dates.
"If you can stay an extra day or two, maybe leave a day or two earlier. It'll make your flying experience a whole lot more enjoyable, and it may even bring down that price substantially," Ziff said.
Flying into an alternate airport in the destination city or a nearby city also may provide savings, Ziff said.
Fly early, check in electronically
Accounting for flight delays is a good idea during peak travel times. By flying early in the day, travelers up their chances of getting on another flight later in the day in case of delays or cancellations, Eisenberg said.
Checking in online or at an electronic kiosk at the airport is a time saver at the beginning of a busy day of travel.
Research best rates, added value
Eisenberg also encourages travelers to call airlines and hotels directly to ask for the best rates and fares. Rates offered by the front desk at hotels can be better than those offered online, he said.
The holiday season is a good time to consider business hotels.
"Business hotels are a good bet on the holidays because if you want to treat yourself to a slightly tonier or ritzier experience, they're often going to be empty on the holidays," Eisenberg said.
In hotels that do a brisk holiday business, Ziff recommends looking for added value. This may come in the form of theme park tickets included in a hotel rate in Orlando, Florida, or lift tickets bundled in at a ski resort.
Knowing the hotel's cancellation policy is a good idea, Ziff said.
Consider something different
For travelers who are not committed to visiting family or friends in a specific location, the holidays are a great time for last-minute deals.
"The two weeks immediately following Thanksgiving are actually the slowest travel times throughout the entire year, and you tend to see great sales at a number of destinations," Ziff said.
Package deals that allow buyers to choose airline seats and hotel rooms are available across the Web for holiday travel. Travelers who have the flexibility to book two weeks or less in advance and fly on the holidays will end up with a variety of choices for a festive vacation.