Every day hundreds of Canadians are lining up for charter flights to the sun destinations we have come to love in Mexico and the Caribbean.

We dream about these vacations all year and yearn for them the first day temperatures re-introduce us to a Canadian winter. And every year we let our yearning stand in the way of good sense, and good planning.

Here are my 10 top tips to help make this winters travel better and less eventful in a negative way.

  1. Arrive early at the airport. The days of showing up last minute with bags and then expecting to be ushered through security are over. For charter travellers to Mexico and the Caribbean the gate line ups can be horrendously long. It’s much more relaxing inside the gate that standing on your feet in the line ups.


  1. Both Westjet and Air Canada have instituted cut-off times for checking in and dropping off baggage. They range from 45 minutes for domestic flights to two hours for overseas travel. Check your airline’s policy in advance. And they are now very serious about this. I know at least two people who were denied boarding even though they were only a few minutes late.


  1. Airlines expect clients to be at the proper gate and ready to board at least 30 minutes before take-off. So, again, arrive early. It is no fun being at the Punta Cana gate and finding out you Cancun gate is near the end of the airport.
Being at the wrong gate going to Mexico could make you miss your flight.


4.  Today we live in a world where the airline booked with may not be the airline actually transporting you to your destination. If this happens to you and you catch it in advance, familiarize yourself with the other airline’s website and policies in case there is an unexpected issue.

While this is obviously not a problem going to our usual non-stop destinations, but going to a place like San Antonio or Brownsville in Texas needs attentive thinking.

The Alamo in San Antonio.

6.  When fees for checked baggage were first introduced, airlines began seriously monitoring size restrictions for carry-on bags. Make sure you meet those requirements. Since the advent of ancillary fees and charges for second and third bags, now for even the first bag on some airlines, size matters. Buy the right sizes now if you don’t have them in your luggage collection.

6.  It is widely acknowledged by most travel experts that passengers tend to pack more than they actually require for their trips. Pack less and pack lightly. You will save dollars and frustration. Most people cannot abide by the concept of packing light, until they do it for one or two trips. Instead of paying for an extra check in bag, pay for a cleaning and washing at the hotel or resort where you are staying.


7.  Scheduled airlines offer greater leeway for checked baggage (23 kilograms per bag). Most charter flights, like Sunwing Vacations and Transat Holidays, restrict baggage weights to 20 kilograms per bag. It is often less expensive to pay for an extra bag then pay for the punitive overweight charges imposed by the airlines.


8.  Weigh your bags at home and allow for a kilogram or two differential between what your scale reads and the airport reading. It is no use getting into a verbal boxing match because of different scale readings. I always take my scale with me. You really never know the weight of the souvenirs you have purchased.    Buy one before you go.   They are inexpensive investments and last a very long time. It can save you a lot of money and in the end a lot of hassle.


9. Leave extra space in your luggage for gifts and souvenir shopping.

No matter what you say in advance, you are most likely to buy something or other to over pack your bags if you don’t fool yourself and recognize that you or your spouse will shop.

If you are in Mexico or the Caribbean you will shop.

10.   Be. On. Time. And that’s on both ends of your vacation. The rules at your destination may even be tighter than at home. Being late at the airport in Cancun or Cabo is not how you want to find out.