14 must-have apps to help you survive the holiday travel season
Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information and offers.
Although airports might look somewhat different this holiday season, you’ll still see some crowded terminals, be faced with overpriced food, encounter the inevitable flight disruptions and potentially have to cope with your pandemic-frayed nerves. The good news is that thanks to your smartphone, you have the power to minimize all that is bad about air travel — if you remember to download the right apps.
Here are the apps we love to help alleviate the pain points of travel, especially in today’s world.
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Download the apps of the airlines you fly regularly. Not only can they give you the latest information on your flights, but you can also rebook your own flights, make seat changes, pay for upgrades, volunteer to be bumped and reach customer service quickly when things go wrong. Airlines have become much more proactive in automatically rebooking you when your flight is canceled, and that information shows up automatically on your phone in the app.
Before you start your trip, you have to pack. And if you're taking the family along, having the Packing Pro app helps you stay organized. It comes with a master catalog to track the items you pack the most, along with the ability to create custom packing lists for every trip, keep a running tally of items packed and make a checkmark to confirm they are in your suitcase. You can also sort items by priority or type, filter items to identify what you still need to buy and be able to either print or email your final lists, among other features. A list can be especially helpful if your baggage is delayed or lost.
Factors such as weather delays and mechanical problems can wreak havoc on airline flights. If you want the latest information on your travels, the FlightAware app lets you track flights online, see a live map of a flight's path, check on those pesky delays and track cancellations and gate changes. The app can be a lifesaver if you have a tight connection. It’s also useful when picking friends and family up at the airport.
Because I’m a Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic geek — and I have a Disney-loving kid — I went ahead and got the Disney+ app (pro tip: I actually got the Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu apps as a bundle for $13.99 a month). The Disney+ app has a pretty cool feature that can be extremely helpful when you’re traveling. You have access to unlimited downloads (limited only by how much storage you have on your device) of shows and movies, plus you can watch those offline on up to 10 mobile or tablet devices with no internet connection needed. So while I’m bingeing Star Wars’ “The Mandalorian,” my kid can watch “The Princess and the Frog” for the 642nd time, and everyone is happy.
If Disney+ programming isn't your thing, then consider Netflix as an alternative. Now is the perfect time to download hundreds of buzz-worthy shows, including "You," "The Crown," "Squid Game" or even "Chef's Table: BBQ" featuring pitmaster Rodney Scott. You can binge to your heart's content.
In 2020, American Express gave holders of The Platinum Card® from American Express a free one-year, and a half price second-year, membership to the popular Calm meditation app, and I took advantage of it. My favorite thing on this app is the array of music designed to help you sleep. But as someone who struggles with a fear of flying, I'm also a big fan of the "Calming Flight Anxiety" series. This app is definitely worth the $69.99-a-year cost.
Related: Top tips to beat your fear of flying
It’s bad enough to be stuck at the airport. But it’s even worse when you’re wandering around the terminal looking for restaurants, bathrooms or an electronics store. The Flio app has useful information and tips to navigate more than 3,000 airports around the world, including everything from how to get to/from the airport to finding pre- and post-security restaurants, shopping, lounges and power outlets. You can receive notifications for delays, gate changes, boarding times and baggage claim belts. It has vouchers for exclusive offers and discounts for restaurants, cafes and duty-free shops. You also can buy Fastlane security checkpoint access, book entry into more than 1,200 airport lounges or reserve airport parking spaces ahead of time.
Your evening flight is canceled, nothing is flying out for the rest of the night and you desperately need a place to sleep. The Hotel Tonight website and app allow you to book a room for the same evening or, depending on the location, up to a week in advance for stays up to five nights or up to 100 days in advance for stays up to 14 nights. (You sometimes will find, however, that prices drop as the date gets closer.)
Hotel room categories are basic, luxe, charming and high-roller – and you can get some really sweet last-minute deals. A quick look at hotels near Baltimore-Washington International Airport yielded the Red Roof PLUS+ Baltimore-Washington DC/BWI Airport for $74 a night, Hilton Baltimore BWI Airport for $102 a night and the Holiday Inn Express Baltimore - BWI Airport North for $104 a night. Pro tip: Book through the app and you can snag even better deals. That Holiday Inn Express is $99 on the app.
App in the Air
App in the Air bills itself as "your personal travel assistant." As a longtime user of this app, I agree. It helps you find the best rates for flights and hotels by using search filters including number of stops, times, amenities, alliance programs, pricing and more. It gives you updates when your flight status changes and tells you when to check in (even without Wi-Fi), as well as offers information on places to eat, Wi-Fi passwords and more at airports. It backs up your flight history by hours, miles, cities and aircraft you’ve flown. Plus it searches your email addresses to automatically import flights, hotels and car rental information.
You’re facing a lengthy delay or a long layover at the airport. You’re tired and an airline lounge is not going to cut it. The Day Use app offers a list of more than 5,000 hotels in 25 countries that offer day rates at between 30% and 75% off an overnight stay. You get access to all of a hotel’s amenities, can book without a credit card and can cancel your room reservation anytime. If you need a room near Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), for example, a daytime stay at the Embassy Suites Crystal City National Airport will run you $79.
LoungeBuddy offers access to premium airport lounges around the world, regardless of the airline or class you’re flying. When you create a trip in the app, it tells you which lounges you have access to based on the airports you’ll be transiting through, as well as how to purchase access if you don’t already have it. You can purchase access on the day you’re traveling or up to two months in advance if you’re the plan-ahead type. If you prefer to search by lounge or lounge program, the app will tell you exactly what is needed to use them.
Our new app allows you to use your spare time in the airport or on a flight to plan your next vacation using your points and miles. The app lets you track credit card, airline and hotel points balances; earn points and miles efficiently by showing you how to use the best credit card; crunch the numbers to share how many points or miles you’ll need to book that dream trip to Greece; and curate TPGs news feed so you see the news and advice that matters most to you first.
The TPG app is now available for download on iOS (and yes, we're working on an Android version, so stay tuned).