Your best bet for traveling this holiday season may be to thumb a ride with Santa. No delays, no layovers, no problem with checked bags. Since that’s not really an option, here’s your hassle-free holiday flying guide, courtesy of Money magazine. For starters, here’s a reality check. Airfares are up 20 to 40 percent compared with last year – and that’s because there are fewer flights. Fewer flights means fuller planes, less space in the overhead compartment and a greater chance that a cancelled flight will leave you stranded. So here’s your sanity-saving plan:

  • Book your flight now! There are fewer seats to sell, so if you wait, you may not get one. The experts say book six weeks out if you can – and buy on a Monday or Tuesday. Prices will only get higher later in the week.
  • If you live in a smaller city – it might be worth driving to the closest big city to fly out. Why? Because the prices to fly in and out of small and mid-size cities went up the most.
  • Go against the grain. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day all fall on a Thursday this season. So don’t fly out when every other shmo is like the day before. Not only will it be the most crowded, you’ll pay the most. If you can fly on the actual holiday, you’ll save a bundle and won’t have to fight as many crowds. Just be sure to be kind to the airport and flight staff – they’re working on a holiday, remember.
  • If you can, book the first flight of the day. That way, if yours gets cancelled, there will be another and there’s less chance of the first flight of the day getting delayed.
  • If you have a choice of connecting cities, pick the one with the warmest climate. Avoid O’Hare, La Guardia and Newark if you can – they’re the airports with the most delayed flights – about half of all flights through those hubs are delayed.
  • I know it doesn’t sound fun – but make sure your layover is two hours long. That way, if your first leg is delayed, you can still probably catch the second leg of your trip.