Drivers heading home for Christmas are likely to find an unpleasant holiday surprise at the gas pump: national prices that are now averaging $3 a gallon for the first time since October 2008, according to a survey commissioned by AAA.
That's nearly 40 cents a gallon higher than last year at this time, or around $3 extra for a 100-mile trip each way to visit grandma.
And for those heading to the skies, this might be their first encounter with the Transportation Security Administration's new pat-down rules, which caught plenty of attention right before Thanksgiving.
Remember that only those who refuse the full-body imaging scanners or somehow set off the standard metal detectors are subject to the pat-downs. So remove all metal objects from your pockets long before you get to the front of the line.
No matter how you are traveling -- car, train, bus, plane or ferry -- expect more company on your trip. AAA projects 92.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the year-end holidays, an increase of 3.1 percent from last year. As on every major holiday, the vast majority of travelers -- 93 percent -- will be drivers.
AAA said rates for hotels it rates as three-diamond lodgings are five percent higher than a year ago, with travelers spending an average of $125 per night compared to $119. Travelers planning to stay at AAA two-diamond hotels can expect to pay two percent more at an average cost of $88 per night. Airfares are expected to be three percent less than last year, with an average lowest round-trip rate of $174 for the top 40 U.S. air routes. Weekend daily car rental rates will remain unchanged at an average of $50.
Winter weather is not going to cooperate for all travelers. Flights in and out of Europe have been delayed or canceled all week by bad weather. Those who did make it, didn't always make it with their bags. In the U.S., meanwhile, a separate storm front is threatening to cause delays in the Southeast and the East Coast over the weekend.
Delta Air Lines is already allowing travelers to and from Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Newark, New York and Washington to make changes to flights at no cost. However, since most flights these days are fully booked, it could be days until travelers find an alternative flight.
Then there is the constant threat of terrorism.
It was exactly a year ago that 23-year-old Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit with explosives hidden in his underwear.
Christmas Terror Theats
Those terrorism jitters have already led to a few false alarms that have delayed plenty of passengers.
On Tuesday morning, Lafayette Regional Airport in Louisiana was shut down and evacuated, all because of a frozen chicken and a headlamp.
A frozen chicken stuffed with crawfish was packed next to a miner's headlamp in a package, and screeners looking at X-rays of it were unable to determine what the odd object was. To make matters worse, wires attached to the headlamp led them to think it might be a bomb.
Just one day earlier, a bomb scare at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey led to one of the airport's three terminals to be shut down during the morning rush. After an investigation, it was determined that the suspicious package was a computer monitor emitting low-level radiation -- which is normal, according to the FBI.
As you head out this holiday week, here are some tips to help you speed through airport security or, if driving, save at the pump.
Know what 3-1-1 means. Transportation Security Administration regulations restrict the amount of liquids you can take on the plane. Each passenger is allowed to fill a single, quart-size, clear plastic bag with 3-ounce (technically, 3.4 ounce) containers of liquids. Exceptions are made for medications, baby food, and breast milk, but these items must be declared.
Pack carry-ons neatly. Use clear zip-top bags to help organize your clothes, and pack in layers so that screeners can easily see what is inside, and coil electronic cords carefully. If transportation security officers can't tell what is in your bag from an X-ray, your bags will likely have to go through an extra manual search.
Dress for success. Before you head to the airport, empty your pockets of loose change, wear minimal jewelry and avoid wearing a belt so you have fewer items to remove for the metal detector. Wear shoes that are easy to slip off and on.
Choose your line carefully. Many airports now offer three lines for travelers: Expert, Casual and Family. If you're traveling with little ones or have liquids that must be declared, choosing the family line will help minimize stress.
Save Money on Gas
Since most families will be driving, here are tips to help you squeeze a little bit more out of your gas budget as you head out on this holiday weekend.
Choose the right octane. For most cars, the recommended gas is regular octane. Using a higher octane gas than the manufacturer recommends offers no benefit, and it costs you at the pump. Unless your engine is knocking, buying higher-octane gas is a waste of money.
Stay away from gas-saving gadgets. Be skeptical of any gadget promising to improve your mileage. The Environmental Protection Agency has tested more than 100 such devices -- including "mixture enhancers" and fuel-line magnets -- and found that very few offered any benefits. Those that worked provided only a slight improvement. Some can even damage your engine.
Stay within the speed limit. Gas mileage decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph.
Avoid unnecessary idling. It wastes fuel, costs you money and pollutes the air. Turn off the engine if you anticipate a wait.
Stop and start gently. You can improve in-town gas mileage by up to 5 percent by driving gently.
Use overdrive and cruise control. They improve fuel economy when you're driving on the highway.
Check your tires. Keeping your tires properly inflated and aligned can increase gas mileage up to 3 percent.
Keep your engine tuned. Tuning your engine can increase gas mileage by an average of 4 percent.
Change your oil. Clean oil reduces wear caused by friction between moving parts, and removes harmful substances from the engine. Motor oil that says "energy conserving" on the performance symbol of the American Petroleum Institute contains friction-reducing additives that can improve fuel economy.
Replace air filters regularly. Replacing clogged filters can increase gas mileage up to 10 percent.
Lose the junk in your trunk. An extra 100 pounds in the trunk can reduce fuel economy by up to 2 percent. Removing nonessential stuff can save you at the pump.