Skip to content

Spring break travel is here: These 6 tips will help you survive it

March 15, 2022
10 min read
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

TPG readers from around the country are sharing photos of long lines at U.S. airports as travel ramps up for spring break. This airport onslaught is being exacerbated by an uptick in people returning to travel after having been grounded the past two years due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In fact, checkpoint volumes at U.S. airports are hitting record numbers, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

As a result, airports are warning passengers to arrive early and allow plenty of time to get from the terminal curb to their seat on their flights as crowds grow.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

What can you do to avoid waiting in long lines and narrowly missing your flight? Here are six tips from TPG to keep at the top of your mind.

Choose the right flights

(Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Early in the morning between 6 and 7 a.m. is an ideal time to fly as that coincides with when the airport is less likely to be crowded. This is in part due to less air traffic and generally calmer weather conditions at the start of the day, so there are typically fewer delays that occur, resulting in fewer passengers waiting around for their flights.

To minimize how much time you'll need to spend in lines and searching for a seat at your gate, try to avoid flying during peak travel times, such as Friday and Sunday afternoons when business travelers head home from their work weeks and leisure travelers take weekend trips.

By skipping flights scheduled for 1 p.m. or later, you'll decrease your odds of being hit with a substantial flight delay, which become more common as the day progresses, according to Bureau of Transportation Statistics data.

Travel with only a carry-on bag

(Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

You can avoid airport chokepoints at the check-in counter and baggage claim if you don't opt to check a bag.

As a charter member of team carry-on myself, I find I can travel for up to a week when using my Everti backpack and soft-sided Away The Bigger Carry-On.

Just be sure the bags you plan on bringing on board fall within the carry-on luggage dimensions noted by your airline. For most U.S. airlines, this means your main carry-on bag must be no more than 22 inches by 14 inches by 9 inches (or 45 linear inches).

Related: Carry-on vs. checked bags: Which is the better choice?

Have airline elite status

A traveler enters the Southwest Airlines Fly By Priority line to check in at John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Santa Ana, California. (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

U.S. airlines offer expedited security at many of the country's busiest airports.

For example, Southwest Airlines' A-List and A-List Preferred members can use Fly By Priority airport security checkpoint lines. Other carriers offering access to expedited security lanes for select passengers include:

  • Alaska Airlines: MVP Gold, MVP Gold 75K and MVP Gold 100K members.
  • American Airlines: AAdvantage Gold, AAdvantage Platinum, AAdvantage Platinum Pro and AAdvantage Executive Platinum members.
  • Delta Air Lines: Gold Medallion, Platinum Medallion and Diamond Medallion members.
  • JetBlue: TrueBlue Mosaic members.
  • Spirit Airlines: Free Spirit Silver and Free Spirit Gold members.
  • United Airlines: Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum and Premier 1K members.

Airline elite status also gets you on the plane at the top of the boarding group, which will better guarantee that precious overhead bin space will be available for your carry-on bags.

If you don't have status but buy a first- or business-class seat, know that it comes with expedited check-in, priority security (where available) and priority boarding.

Related: Current airline elite status match and challenge options you should know about

Sign up for TSA PreCheck (or Global Entry) and Clear

Passengers using a Clear kiosk at Palm Beach International Airport (PBI) in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by: Lindsey Nicholson/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

TSA PreCheck gives travelers access to a separate expedited security line at more than 200 U.S. airports.

By enrolling for an $85 fee in this expedited security program, which 80-plus domestic and international airlines participate in, you'll enjoy moving through designated security lanes where taking off items like shoes, belts and light jackets and removing laptops from carry-on bags is not required.

You can also pay $189 (or a special reduced rate if you have elite status with Delta or United) for a Clear membership. This program uses biometric authentication (either a fingerprint or an eye scan) to identify you, eliminating the need to wait for a TSA agent to inspect your ID. After your identity is verified, a Clear representative escorts you to the front of the security screening line.

If you’re enrolled in both Clear and TSA PreCheck, you’ll be taken directly to the front of the TSA PreCheck line, saving you even more time in the security screening area.

Before signing up for TSA PreCheck, Global Entry or Clear, see if any of the credit cards in your wallet will give you a credit for one (or more) of the programs. Several cards offer up to $100 for either TSA PreCheck or Global Entry (which includes TSA PreCheck membership), while The Platinum Card® from American Express provides an annual credit of $189 to cover a Clear membership. Additionally, the American Express® Green Card comes with a yearly statement credit of up to $100 to apply toward the cost of a Clear membership.

The information for the Amex Green card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: Clear expedited airport security program — Is it worth it?

Check TSA wait times

The MyTSA app, which is available on iOS and Android devices, provides estimated wait times at each airport's security lanes so you can plan ahead and time your arrival accordingly.

The app also offers helpful tips for preparing for security, including a searchable database of what you can and cannot bring in your carry-on bag.

(Screenshot courtesy of TSA)

Many of the country's main airports allow you to check security wait times directly on the front pages of their websites, too.

You'll even find that some airports, such as Orlando International Airport (MCO) and San Antonio International Airport (SAT), have monitors by TSA checkpoints that display regularly updated wait times.

A screen shows the wait times for security and customs at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York. (Screenshot courtesy of the airport)

Related: 3 simple things to do before going through TSA screening

Dress for airport success

Passengers proceed through the TSA security checkpoint at Denver International Airport (DEN). (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

Carefully plan your airport wardrobe to shave off some time going through security.

You'll want to wear a pair of travel shoes that are easy to take off and put back on. Additionally, bring a jacket with pockets so you can quickly stow important items like your phone, wallet and passport once you've gone through the X-ray machine and are retrieving your carry-on items.

If you don't have TSA PreCheck, be proactive by removing your laptop or tablet, 3-1-1 liquids bag, jacket and shoes before you get to the conveyor belt. Make sure your belt and metal jewelry are off and that there are no coins in your pockets, as these can set off the alarm and waste precious minutes.

Bottom line

Spring break is one of those peak travel times that can try the patience of even the most experienced of road warriors.

Fortunately, there are a few simple ways to reduce your time spent in long lines.

By following these tips, you'll become a pro at navigating the scrum with ease and avoiding any unnecessary delays.

Featured image by Bloomberg via Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

TPG featured card

Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 3X points
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points60,000 points
For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Annual Fee

$95

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent, Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent, Good

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases