When should you book your holiday flights? Experts say right now!


Santa as pilot of the plane

OK. We know that the leaves haven’t turned yet, and the smell of pumpkin spice is barely wafting through the air. We aren’t even in Halloween prime time yet. We assure you, we aren’t trying to rush things, but we’d like to offer some seriously good advice: If you plan to fly someplace for the holidays – either for Thanksgiving or for the Christmas / Hanukkah / Kwanzaa window – it’s not too early to book your plane travel now. In fact, it may be the ideal time.

According to AAA Travel’s flight booking data from the last three years, Sept. 25 marks the start of the best booking window for air travel over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. It’s generally the best time for both availability and price deals. While it’s true that there are sometimes last-minute deals for travel, there is limited availability – so if you want the best availability and choice, start looking soon.

See AAA’s advice for the best days to travel on both holidays windows: The Best Time to Book Your Holiday Flights? Now! Check their article for some detailed advice. We’re reproducing two of their handy charts.

AAA Thanksgiving travel -chart of best dates

AAA - Christmas holiday travel = best times chart

SmarterTravel offers their take on timing: The 12 Best and Worst Days to Travel This Holiday Season. They show the busiest travel days around both holidays by share of bookings from travel booking site Hipmunk. They also offer some advice on snagging the best fares.

For train travel, Amtrak offers Tips for Successfully Booking Your Trip. They say that “The earlier you book your tickets, the more likely you are to get the lowest fare available for the dates you want on the routes along your journey. You may book your travel up to 11 months in advance.” See their Tips for Savvy Travelers.

In planning your trip, consider whether you need trip insurance. If you are just zipping home on a domestic flight to visit your folks, you might not need it. Instead, before you book, check your credit cards to see if any offer baggage protection or other travel benefits when you book a flight – many do. And know your consumer rights – see the Department of Transportation’s Fly Rights: A Consumer Guide to Air Travel.

But if you are taking an expensive family trip over the holidays and traveling overseas or on a cruise, you might want to talk trip insurance over with your agent to protect your investment. The Insurance Information Institute offers a good primer: Should you buy travel insurance?

Pet holiday safety & pet holiday fun


Everyone knows the real purpose of the Internet is for cute and funny cat and dog videos – and in the holiday season, pet videos abound. We’re posting a few of our favorites, but first, a serious reminder: In all the celebrations and gala, take particular precautions to avoid pet hazards and look after your pet’s safety – the average cost of surgery is a whopping $1,803 per pet. For tips, see: Pet dangers increase during holidays, insurance claims skyrocket.

Cats wreaking havoc with Christmas trees sure make for fun online videos. Some people go to great lengths to outsmart their cats and retailers are producing special trees for people with cats. See other contraptions and wacky methods people take to protect their trees from pesky pets. This video shows cats winning the annual battle.

Here’s a 10-minute compilation of pets, presents and the pet’s reactions

And 10 more minutes of kids reacting to getting a puppy as a present

The Ranua Wildlife Park is an Arctic Zoo in Lapland so it’s pretty wintry looking. They already gave their animals “little presents in their own style.”

This is last year’s cute video of animals opening gifts in the London Zoo.

Don’t fall for any fake Santas: the 12 scams of Christmas


caroon orf a fake Santa in a police lineup

Busy this season? You probably are – everyone gets caught up in the year-end holiday madness. But no matter how busy you may be, there’s one group of people that never rest: online thieves, crooks and scammers. With just a few weeks left in peak shopping season, scammers are pulling out all stops to try to separate you from your money. Don’t let any fake, scam Santas ruin your holidays. The Better Business Bureau keeps an eye on active swindle schemes and offers an updated list for this season: 12 Scams of Christmas: What to Look For and How to Avoid Them.

Here’s a brief summary – click through the link above to learn more and to find out ways to prevent being a con victim.

1. Look-Alike Websites – these usually come by email offers so buyer beware of what you click!
2. Social Media Gift Exchange – a new twist on the old pyramid scheme.
3. Grandparent Scams – emergency calls for cash help from crooks posing as relatives or friends. Hint: elderly are particularly vulnerable, but hardly the only victims.
4. Temporary Holiday Jobs – fake employers trying to get personal information from unwary applicants.
5. Free Gift Cards – a common phishing scam bait.
6. E-Cards – More people rely on electronic versus traditional cards. So do more phishers – be careful what you click in emails.
7. Fake Shipping Notifications – Phishers know that most people are ordering or getting holiday gifts and you might get tricked by a phony mail alert.
8. Phony Charities – Giving is great, but check with BBB or with sites like Charity Navigator.
9. Letters From Santa – great when they are legit but use a trusted source.
10. Unusual Forms of Payments – If the seller wants prepaid debit or gift cards, wire transfers or payments through third parties, that is a scam alert!
11. Travel Scams – Phony email offers and scam sites are common all year, but especially in this heavy travel season.
12. Puppy Scams – These play on your emotion, but at the heartstrings and wallet. Get your puppies from trusted sources!

We recommend this age-old advice: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Be suspicious of emails. Hover over links before you click, or better yet, go directly to the site by typing in the URL. Rely on trusted vendors and be wary of email or online offers from companies you don’t know. BBB says that if you come across any of these scams this holiday season help protect yourself and others by:

Here are some tips we’ve offered from prior years:

 

 

Experts say: “Put a freeze on winter fires”


Home fires can happen any time of the year, but there are special risks over the holidays. Two very common activities that are popular at the holidays are often the source of fires: Holiday decorating and holiday cooking. For example, the top three days of the year for home candle fires are Christmas, New Year’s Day and New Year’s Eve. The National Fire Protection Association and the United States Fire Administration urge people to Put a freeze on winter fires. In this post, we focus on holiday fore prevention. We’ve included a video and infographic from the “Put a freeze…” campaign, as well as holiday decorating tips that they suggest.

Decorating for the holidays

  • Only use decorations that are flame-retardant or not flammable.
  • Check holiday lights each year for frayed wires or excessive wear.
  • Don’t link more than three strands of holiday lights.
  • Never leave a burning candle unattended. Consider using battery-operated flameless candles.

Christmas tree safety

  • Choose a tree with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched.
  • Before placing the tree in the stand, cut 2” from the base of the trunk.
  • Make sure the tree is at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or lights.
  • Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit.
  • Add water to the tree stand. Be sure to add water daily.
  • Use lights that have the label of a recognized testing laboratory. Some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use.
  • Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Read manufacturer’s instructions for number of light strands to connect.
  • Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.
  • Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going
  • Get rid of the tree after Christmas or when it is dry.
  • Dried-out trees are a fire danger and should not be left in the home or garage, or placed outside against the home.
  • Check with your local community to find a recycling program.
  • Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer

Dangerous toys: Check these 2018 toy safety reports and tips


young boy with Christmas toys

Don’t let your children’s holiday toy wishlist turn scary this year: every 3 minutes, a child is treated in an emergency room for a toy-related injury. As you compile your holiday shopping list, take some time to check the list online against reviews and product safety reports. And a good place to start are the seasonal safety reports that various consumer safety groups issue.

The Worst Toys for 2018

The World Against Toys Causing Harm (W.A.T.C.H.)  recently released its 10 Worst Toys for 2018 report. They say that, “… toys like the “Power Rangers Super Ninja Steel Superstar Blade” and “Marvel Black Panther Slash Claw,” should not be in the hands of children.” This year’s toy report addresses the types of toy hazards available online and in retail stores so parents know what deadly traps to avoid when buying toys. In addition to their press release linked above, check out the slide show with photos so you can recognize the toys, some of which would have strong “kid appeal.”

W.A.T.C.H. offers the following toy safety tips:

Watch out …

  • for Toys Marketed On The Internet, without warnings, instructions or age recommendations posted on the website.
  • for Battery Operated Toys For Children Under 8 Years Of Age since batteries may leak, overheat and explode.
  • for Toys With “Fur” Or “Hair”, including dolls and stuffed animals, that can be ingested and aspirated by oral age children.
  • for Toys With Small Removable Attachments at the end of laces and strings (e.g., bells, knobs, etc.).
  • for Projectile Toys, including dart guns, sling shots, and pea-shooters which shoot objects and can cause eye injuries and often blindness.
  • for Toys With Pointed Tips, And Blunt Or Sharp Edges that could crush, cut or puncture children’s skin.
  • for Toys With Strings Longer Than 6 Inches which could strangle small children.for Any Crib Or Playpen Toys which are to be strung across cribs or playpens. This type of toy has resulted in strangulation deaths and injuries.
  • for Toys Marketed With Other Product Lines, such as food, clothing, books, cassettes and videos which could have dangerous designs and are often sold with no warnings, instructions or age recommendations.
  • for Toys Composed Of Flammable Material which will readily ignite when exposed to heat or flame.
  • for Realistic Looking Toy Weapons including guns, dart guns, Ninja weaponry, swords, toy cleavers, knives, and crossbows which promote violence.
  • for Toys Which Require Electricity to function and do not have step-down transformers to reduce risk of shock and electrocution.
  • for Toys With Small Parts that can be swallowed or aspirated, causing choking.
  • for Long Handled Toys For Children Up To 4 Years Of Age due to a tendency of such children to place these toys in their mouths and choke.
  • for Toys With Toxic Surfaces Or Components that have the potential to be ingested or cause skin irritations (e.g., some children’s’ play make up kits have components which contain ferrocyanide, a known poison).

CPSC Report for 2018

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission also issued a toy safety report for 2018. It says that asphyxiation or choking are two of the most common injury hazards. It is not just important to buy safe toys, it’s also important to supervise children when they use toys. Here are some of their safety tips issued this year, with a few from past years:

  • Magnets – Children’s magnetic toys are covered by a strong safety standard that prevents magnets from being swallowed. High-powered magnet sets that have small magnets are dangerous and should be kept away from children. Whether marketed for children or adults, building and play sets with small magnets should also be kept away from small children.
  • Balloons – Children can choke or suffocate on deflated or broken balloons. Keep deflated balloons away from children younger than eight years old. Discard torn balloons immediately.
  • Small balls and other toys with small parts – For children younger than age three, avoid toys with small parts, which can cause choking.
  • Scooters and other riding toys – Riding toys, skateboards and in-line skates go fast, and falls could be deadly. Helmets and safety gear should be worn properly at all times and they should be sized to fit.
  • Check the label: Choose age appropriate toys by reading the age label on the toy. Children younger than 3 should not have access to toys with small parts, which can cause choking. Also avoid marbles and small balls for children under 3.
  • Get safety gear. With scooters and other riding toys, supervision is key along with proper safety gear that includes helmets. Helmets should be worn properly at all times and they should be sized to fit. Avoid riding a scooter on a street or roadway with other motor vehicles.
  • Keep toys appropriate for older children away from younger siblings.
  • Battery charging should be supervised by adults. Chargers and adapters can pose thermal burn hazards to young children. Pay attention to instructions and warnings on battery chargers. Some chargers lack any mechanism to prevent overcharging.

See more on toy safety at the CPSC..