I promised it, and here it is: My annual Holiday Travel Guide. It specializes in tips and tricks for using PDX, but this year I've also included my favorite travel websites, and new links to help you with your trip.
Photo Courtesy Airliners.net
Once again we're looking at the busiest Thanksgiving travel week in PDX history. The Port of Portland estimates more than 315,000 of us will fly through PDX between now and the Sunday after Thanksgiving. The busiest days will approach 50,000 passengers. So I've put together tips, and good websites, to help you navigate the mess, not only in Portland, but across the country.
Most airlines will now let you check-in for your flight, 24-hours ahead of time, on their websites. You can choose seats, and print-out boarding passes at home. Then you just drop-off your bags at the airport. This can save you an hour. And if you're flying Southwest, it can get you to the front of the line in the mad-scramble for the best seats.
Check-in at an e-ticket machine.
If you can't check-in at home, use an e-ticket machine at the airport, instead of waiting in-line for an agent. These PDX airlines have e-ticket check-in: Alaska/Horizon, US Airways/America West, American, htContinental, Delta, Hawaiian, jetBlue, Northwest, Southwest, and United. Air Canada, Big Sky, Frontier, Lufthansa, and Mexicana do not offer e-ticket check-in at PDX.
Choose the shortest security line.
The Port has built a "concourse connector" linking the A, B, and C concourses to the D and E concourses, behind security. It's designed for passengers connecting from Alaska and Horizon flights (on A, B, and C) onto the international flights to Tokyo and Frankfurt (on D). But saavy travelers have quickly found they can use the D and E security checkpoint (with its typically shorter lines) to get to their gate on A, B, or C. It could save you 15 or 20 minutes at peak times.
Check with TSA.
Before you pack your carry-on, take a look at their list of allowed items. It changes every now and then, so you'll want to make sure you don't pack anything that will have to be thrown away at the security checkpoint.
Get there early.
I know... we hear this all the time. But it really does matter when the airport's jammed. They tell you 2-hours, but I always try for 90 minutes. Unless I'm parking there. Which leads me to my next tip.
Get there EXTRA early.
That is, if you're parking in the economy lot. Christmas of 2004 I flew out of PDX and tried to park in economy, but there were NO SPOTS when I got there at 6am. The lot was FULL. They had us parking on the side of the road. It took at least an hour to park and get to the terminal. I just made my flight (by about 48 seconds). So follow the 2-hour rule if economy parking is in your future.
Take the MAX.
It runs every 15-minutes in both directions, with the first train getting you to PDX at 4:45am, and the last one leaving PDX at 11:55pm. It costs $1.80 each way. A lot cheaper than $8/day for economy parking, or $12/day for long-term. For more information, check out Tri-Met's MAX page.
You're not flying.
If you have to drop someone off, or pick someone up, here's some things to speed-up that process, too.
- Park on top of the garage. We all want to park on Level 4, because it has the skybridges that go directly across to the terminal. But this time of year, it's always packed. You'll waste time trying to find a spot there. So just go to Level 7, atop the garage, and park right next to the elevator. It'll end up saving you a few minutes.
- Quick Pay is your friend. You'll find the Quick Pay terminals on Level 4 of the parking garage and in the underground connector between the Terminal and the garage. Pay for your parking here, and you'll breeze right out of the parking gate.
- Use the Cell Phone Wait Lot. The Cell Lot makes a comeback after a successful first year. There's a parking lot (on the left, off 82nd, near the air cargo area) that's free for people picking-up passengers. Park there, and have your family/friends call you when they grab their bags. Then you can drive around and have them hop-in, without having to pay for parking. BEWARE: You can not park here and leave your car. You'll get a ticket... or be towed.
- Pick-up on the upper level. Sure, the signs say the upper level is for departures. But most of the time, and especially at night, the lower level is jammed with "pick-ups." Avoid that by picking-up your family/friends up above. And save a lot of time by using the upper, outer roadway. But don't stay too long, and don't leave your car, because the Port of Portland Police aren't too excited about people who do that... and they'll likely tow you.
My favorite travel websites.
If you're still looking too book that holiday trip, I've compiled a number of websites I use when I travel. It takes a little extra work to do your booking the way I do mine, but it could very easily save you some money.
The first thing I always do is get a feel for what airfares are running by checking Expedia.com. Expedia is one of the best sites, I find, when comparing fares by airline, and by the number of en-route stops. But (the folks at Expedia don't want to hear this) I never book my ticket there.
Once I find a good deal at Expedia, I go directly to the airline's website. Almost always, I'll find the fare $5 cheaper per person on the airline's website... because that's what Expedia charges in fees. So if I find a ticket on Expedia, flying on United, for example, for $200, I'll go to the United website and book the ticket for $195. If you don't know the airline's web address, I've posted a full list for all the airlines that fly out of PDX at the end of this blog.
If you aren't finding any good deals that way, go to Hotwire. It's a website that offers discounted airfares. The airlines "dump" extra capacity on Hotwire, at 20 to 50% off the regular fare. Hotwire won't always have a good deal... but if you catch it at the right time, you can get a huge discount.
If you're trying to find a good place to go, or you want to know more about the city you've selected, I recommend Fodor's. Their website has great information about things to do, restaurants, and hotels. They also have a list of good deals on the left side of their homepage.
After you find that good deal, but before you book, I recommend you get the most out of your travel by checking Flightstats. It's run by a Portland company. It compiles all the on-time information for every flight in the US. You can type in the flight number of the one you're thinking about booking, and it will tell you what your chances are of being on-time. It also tells you things like average delay, and number of cancellations.
Meanwhile, Seatmap.com has a comprehensive listing of all airline fleets in the US, and many from around the world. The site walks you through the seatmap of the plane that will be used on your flight. It tells you which seats are good, and which to avoid. I always use it before I book.
One more thing to remember: Southwest Airlines doesn't list its fares in any of the on-line booking engines. To get fares for Southwest, you must go to its website. Southwest also offers travel deals... but again... only on its website.
Other quick links.
- General flight delay information, from the US Department of Transportation.
- PDX arrival and departure information, broken down by airline, and constantly updated.
- Lost luggage tips from the Better Business Bureau.
- Portland weather information, from the good folks over in the First Alert Storm Center.
If you have any more tricks, tips, or websites you use, let me know. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Appendix: Airlines and Non-Stop Destinations at PDX
Air Canada: Vancouver, BC.
Alaska Airlines: Anchorage, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Los Cabos, Oakland, Orange County, Palm Springs, Phoenix, Puerto Vallarta, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose.
America West Airlines/US Airways: Las Vegas, Philadelphia, and Phoenix.
American Airlines: Chicago O'Hare and Dallas/Ft. Worth.
Big Sky Airlines: Missoula and Moses Lake.
Continental Airlines: Houston Bush Intercontinental and New York/Newark.
Delta Air Lines: Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Salt Lake City.
Frontier Airlines: Denver.
Hawaiian Airlines: Honolulu and Kahului/Maui.
Horizon Air: Billings, Boise, Burbank, Denver, Eugene, Fresno, Klamath Falls, Medford, Moses Lake, North Bend/Coos Bay, Oakland, Ontario, Pasco, Pendleton, Redding, Redmond/Bend, Reno, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Barbara, Seattle, Spokane, and Vancouver, BC.
jetBlue Airways: New York Kennedy.
Lufthansa German Airlines: Frankfurt.
Northwest Airlines: Detroit, Honolulu, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Tokyo/Narita.
Southwest Airlines: Albuquerque, Boise, Chicago Midway, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Oakland, Phoenix, Reno, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Jose, and Spokane.
United Airlines: Chicago O'Hare, Denver, Eugene, Los Angeles, Medford, Redmond/Bend, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington Dulles.