9 must-have apps to survive the holiday travel season

Nov 23, 2019

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The holiday travel season is fast approaching. We all know what this means: crowded terminals, overpriced food, frayed nerves and the inevitable flight delays and cancellations. But thanks to your smartphone, you have the power to minimize all that is bad about air travel — if you download the right apps.

Here are the apps that help alleviate the pain points of travel.

DENVER, CO - APRIL 12: TSA security lines in the main terminal are crowded with spring break travelers on April 12, 2017, in Denver, Colorado. Located 25 miles from downtown, Denver International Airport, a United Airlines hub, has become one the largest airport in the United States. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
The TSA security checkpoint in the main terminal at Denver International Airport. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

Airline apps

Download the apps of the airlines you fly regularly. Not only can they give you the latest information on your flights, you can 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.

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(Image courtesy of FlightAware)
(Image courtesy of FlightAware)

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 to track flights online, see a live map of a flight and check on those pesky delays, 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.

Related reading: 30 essential travel apps every traveler needs


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 (I actually did the Disney/Hulu/ESPN+ bundle). The Disney+ app has a pretty cool feature that can be extremely helpful when you’re traveling. You have access to unlimited downloads (based on how much storage you have on your device) of shows and movies you can watch offline on up to 10 mobile or tablet devices — 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.


(Image courtesy of Flio)

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. It also has vouchers for exclusive offers and discounts for restaurants, cafes and duty-free shops. You can buy Fastlane security checkpoint access, book entry into more than 350 airport lounges or reserve airport parking spaces ahead of time. You can also check on the status of flights.


Richard Kerr, TPG’s loyalty and engagement editor, is a big fan of this service for those who experience a flight cancellation, delay or missed connection. Up to two days before a U.S. domestic flight, go to Freebird on your desktop, smartphone or tablet, type in your flight information and pay $19 each way. If your flight is affected, Freebird will book you on the very next flight to your destination on any U.S. airline — even if they have to book you in first class. It takes less than 30 seconds to book a new flight.

Hotel Tonight

(Photo courtesy of the Hotel 50 Bowery)
Get a hotel room like this at the last minute with Hotel Tonight. (Photo courtesy of the Hotel 50 Bowery)

Your evening flight is canceled, nothing is flying out for the rest of the night and you need a place to sleep. The Hotel Tonight app allows you to book a room for the same evening or up to seven days before your stay. 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 a Holiday Inn Express for $86 a night, Hilton Baltimore BWI Airport at $103, BWI La Quinta for $73 and the TownPlace Suites BWI for $102.


You’re facing a lengthy delay or you have a long layover at the airport. You’re tired and an airline lounge is not going to be enough. The Day Use app offers up 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.


The good news is that airports have really stepped up the food and beverage options they offer in their terminals. The bad news is it can be harder to find vegetarian or vegan options. The Happy Cow app is ready to help. The app is crowdsourced by an online community that helps travelers find plant-based and vegan options, along with healthy food, at restaurants and stores around the world., including airports.


A Grab Kiosk is seen in Terminal C at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. (Photo courtesy of Grab)
A Grab Kiosk is seen in Terminal C at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. (Photo courtesy of Grab)
You’re landing at the airport and you have a tight connection. Or the lines at airport eateries are wrapped around the terminal. If you have the Grab app, you can order and pay for your food at the restaurant of your choice from your phone and have it ready and waiting when you pick it up. The app is in 37 airports around the world. If you have the American Airlines app on your smartphone, you can order on it directly. Grab automatically appears on the home screen of your device if participating restaurants and retailers are available, based on your itinerary.
Featured photo by DaniloAndjus/Getty Images

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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