We love a lazy three-day weekend at home as much as the next person, but our job here at TPG is to help you maximize the tools at your disposal (like points and miles) to travel where you want when you want.
One of the best tools for a quick getaway: the three-day weekend.
Those three-day holiday weekends are essentially “free” paid time off that, when combined with your hard-earned PTO days, could help you take longer vacations throughout the year.
With some help from the intrepid travelers in our Facebook group, the TPG Lounge, here are six tips to maximize holiday weekends for longer vacations.
Do the math
Let’s start by figuring out just how much you could stretch your vacation time by traveling around three-day holiday weekends. The number may be high enough that you’ll start searching for Memorial Day flights as soon as you finish reading this.
These are 11 recognized annual federal holidays:
- New Year’s Day (Jan. 1).
- Martin Luther King Jr. Day (third Monday in January).
- Presidents Day (third Monday in February).
- Memorial Day (last Monday in May).
- Juneteenth National Independence Day (June 19).
- Independence Day (July 4).
- Labor Day (first Monday in September).
- Columbus Day (second Monday in October).
- Veterans Day (Nov. 11).
- Thanksgiving Day (fourth Thursday in November).
- Christmas Day (Dec. 25).
Some of these, like Independence Day and Christmas, don’t always fall right before or after a weekend, but traveling around these days can still save you from using precious PTO days, so we will include them in the calculations.
The average American earns an average of 15.6 PTO days annually, according to the U.S. Travel Association. This could be a combination of vacation and sick days, depending on how your employer defines PTO.
Of those 15.6 days, Americans used 7.2 for travel, on average.
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By planning your vacations around three-day weekends, you could add a total of 11 “free” PTO days to your schedule. Based on the U.S. average, that’s 26 PTO days that you could use to travel the world, which is 19 more PTO days than the average American reportedly spends traveling each year.
Find the best prices
Of course, traveling during long weekends isn’t a secret trick, so airfare and hotel prices can certainly be higher during those times.
For popular spring or summer long weekends — like Memorial Day and Fourth of July — you’ll find the best prices three to four months before your travel dates.
Related: 5 key tools and tips to find the cheapest airfare
One of the easiest ways to track flight prices for your trip is to set up a price tracker in Google Flights. You can track an overall route or individual flights, and Google will send price change notifications directly to your inbox.
Google Flights can also be a good starting point to see which flights are operating even if you plan to book with points and miles, though you will ultimately need to book directly with the airline if there is award availability.
If you don’t want to wait around to see if prices drop before booking your flights, most major airlines do not charge fees for changing your flights after you’ve booked if the price drops or you find a similar flight on the same airline at a lower fare.
Some airlines require you to book in a certain fare class to avoid change fees, but booking in advance and checking periodically for a price drop ensures you have the ticket you need regardless of what happens with the price.
Beat the crowds
It’s no secret that holiday weekends can be busy times for travel. However, there are several ways to beat the crowds at the airport and your destination to ensure your vacation is restful and relaxing.
It may seem counterintuitive, but traveling on a holiday can actually be less busy than traveling the day before or after a holiday.
For example, the busiest travel days during the 2022 winter holiday season were Thursday, Dec. 22, and Friday, Dec. 30, according to the Transportation Security Administration. If your schedule allows, you’re likely to see shorter lines and fewer crowds if you travel on the actual holiday, when most travelers have already arrived at their destination.
When choosing your destination, your best bet is to avoid the spots everyone else is going. Instead of heading to Disney World with everyone else, use this time as an opportunity to visit some lesser-known regional theme parks.
If you love visiting national parks, avoid the major players like Yosemite and the Grand Canyon and head for one of the less-crowded (but just as beautiful) national parks.
If you want to travel a bit farther, you can find under-the-radar spots in Italy, France, Africa and all over the world. Obviously, that’s probably not the best plan for a three-day weekend, but if you wanted to add a couple of days of PTO to the plan, the world opens up.
Work from the airport lounge
We’ll keep the work talk to a minimum, but traveling over a holiday weekend may mean you need to wrap a few things up before you leave or clear your inbox before you return to work.
This may be especially true if you are stretching the weekend a bit on either end to avoid the crowds and the highest prices.
There’s no better place to do those things than in the airport lounge. You can do what needs to be done so you have a fresh start on your first day back at work and enjoy a drink and bite to eat while you do it.
Which airport lounge(s) you can access depends on which airline you are flying, your elite status and which credit cards are in your wallet.
If you have the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, you can access Delta Sky Club lounges while traveling on a same-day, Delta-marketed or Delta-operated flight and American Express Centurion Lounges when flying with a Delta ticket purchased using a U.S.-issued American Express card.
Do your homework before you travel to know which lounges are available to you in the airports you’ll travel through.
Because the lounge may be a far distance from your gate, it’s also smart to arrive at the airport early. This will ensure you have enough time to finish everything without feeling rushed, hopefully leaving time for a cocktail.
Secure extra hours at the hotel
When you need to make the most of every minute of a short vacation, this is the perfect time to book your stay in a way where you can check in early, stay late and maybe even start your day with some room service.
Hotel elite status — especially at the upper levels — can be good for many of those things.
Even if you don’t have elite status, you can replicate many of those perks by being strategic in how you book. For example, the American Express Fine Hotels + Resorts program, open to those with The Platinum Card® from American Express, provides a guaranteed 4 p.m. late checkout, gives you a priority for early check-in, includes full breakfast for two and usually includes another $100 on-property credit.
TPG’s hotel booking partner Skylark provides much of the same at higher-end hotels, such as The Ritz-Carlton, Turks and Caicos, shown above, with no specific credit card required.
No matter how you go about securing it, ensuring you can make the most of your time at the destination is important when the days there are limited.
Use the extra day as a ‘gentle reentry’
One TPG Lounge member opts for the complete opposite of this to squeeze every last drop of fun out of her vacations. TPG reader Rhonna prefers to fly out Friday after work and take a red-eye home on Monday evening. She arrives home just in time for work on Tuesday and takes an Uber there straight from the airport.
It’s not a bad strategy, but it might not work for everybody.
As an alternative to using your extra day off as an extra day for traveling, you can use your “free” day off as a day to reacclimate to the real world before jumping back into work.
If you travel before a holiday that you have off work, you can use the extra time off to unpack, do laundry, stock up on groceries for the week and relax at home a little before fully tuning back into the real world.
Related: Best stops on a Route 66 road trip
There are few things better in this world than a three-day weekend. That extra day feels like a bonus where you can do as much — or as little — as you want while you push your work worries away into the very back corner of your mind.
Using the above strategies, you can easily stretch those holiday weekends into the vacations you’ve been dreaming of, even if you have a limited amount of time off.