You've seen the tips: book your tickets early, travel on the holiday, spread your legs for the TSA and you're guaranteed to have a good trip.
But the travel advice you're likely to read around the holidays is growing mold, and not once in all of my years of offering it to my good readers has anyone written to say thank you for recycling.
You deserve better.
Oh, you want the truth? The whole, ridiculous, preposterous truth?
There's no "best" time to buy a plane ticket for the holidays, no "best" time to fly. It's the holidays, silly! Airlines are trying to get the most money from you because everyone knows you want to fly home. And that whole bit about flying on the actual holiday? Stupid! They're still gonna getcha, and as a bonus, you get to miss Christmas.
You can get to the airport early and still miss your flight. It can happen for any number of perfectly valid reasons, mostly, though, because employees want a little time off around the holidays, and it's not that unusual for the good folks working the ticket counter to be shortstaffed, overwhelmed, and for long, long, loooong lines to form. So go on, get there at 3 a.m. No guarantees.
Be nice to the TSA agents, ticket agents and attendants, and they won't necessarily be nice back to you. After all, it's the happiest time of the year? Oh, nonsense. That might work during the summer, when everyone's happy, but this is the darkest time of the year. Everyone's crabby, and if they aren't, they're probably drunk. What's more, they're likelier to hate you if you put on that saccharine smile, because they'll envy you for being so upbeat. Keep your head down, be cordial, but for cryin' out loud, don't wear your Santa hat to the airport.
Don't obey the TSA; everything will not be OK. The agency charged with "protecting" America's transportation systems is on a power trip, say critics. The critics are more or less correct. Those of us who say, "Cooperate with the TSA, and there won't be another 9/11" now find themselves with the uncomfortable choice between an untested, full-body scan or an invasive pat-down. The TSA needs someone to draw the line and say, "Enough!" Congress won't do it, the courts won't do it and the president won't do it. So it's up to us, the people. That time is now, during the holidays. It's simple. Opt out of the scanner, show them that together we have the power to disrupt an unjust, possibly unconstitutional practice and restore some dignity to airport security.
In coming days and weeks, you'll hear the travel industry's soothsayers telling you the exact opposite of this. They'll tell you to schedule your flight on Christmas and New Years, forcing you to miss precious family time. They'll insist that there's a best time of the day or week to buy a ticket, but they really ought to know better. They know that the sophisticated algorithms used by computer reservations systems can't be foiled so easily, they can't say for sure if there's a cheaper ticket out there, because they don't know Â? can't know. They'll tell you to be nice, to comply.
But they're wrong.
Christopher Elliott is the author of "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals" (Wiley). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Christopher Elliott receives a great deal of reader mail, and though he answers them as quickly as possible, your story may not be published for several months because of a backlog of cases.)