Unwrapping upgrades: How to give the gift of more bearable air travel

Source: Etihad Airways

The road to relaxation is rocky. Standing in between you and your vacation is the stressful endeavor of flying commercial. For most of us that means standing in a long security line, with ever-befuddling lists of safety procedures, only to get to an economy class seat with minimal legroom. Overhead bin space isn't even a given anymore.

But record numbers of travelers are taking to the skies, a sign that what awaits us after our flights is indeed worth it.

Here are a few gifts for those in your circle with a case of wanderlust, who would appreciate upgrading their travel experiences from booking to wheels down:

Miles to go

Mark Ralston | AFP | Getty Images

Travel startup Skyhour, which recently won the backing of JetBlue's venture arm, offers an easy way to gift travel to a loved one, especially if you're not sure whether their whims will take them to Baku, Bilbao, or Banff. Instead of miles, the generous gifter plugs in an amount to the app, available on iOS. It's $60 per flight hour, which can be applied to flights. The recipient and user each have to download the app.

The downside is it could be pricey — the amount of the flight is often less than the hours provided, but Skyhour's founder says in those cases some of the funds will be credited to the recipient account.

Airlines including Delta, American also offer gift certificates, while United, allows miles gifting to be used toward lounge access as well as flights.

Price: Varies

Buy now: Skyhour

First class lounging, coach class ticket

An employee serves beverages at Cathay Pacific Airways' new lounge 'The Bridge' at Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, China.
Brent Lewin | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Respondents to a poll released earlier this year by Ipsos for the Airlines for America trade group found that getting through airport security was the most stressful part of their air travel. So why not gift something to really look forward to at the end of that slog: access to an airport lounge.

Access to these plush lounges, which feature open bars, showers, spas and gourmet food (take that, $12 turkey wrap!) are usually reserved for those willing to pay in the four-digits for tickets, or are swimming in frequent flyer miles.

LoungeBuddy is a site and app that sells day passes to some 300 airport lounges around the world. If you know the dates of the recipient's travel, say a spring break trip or winter getaway, a surprise upgrade to one of these lounges could make their trip to the airport something to look forward to. Prices start at $25.

The company plans to sell gift cards online in the next two to three weeks.

Competitor Priority Pass sells access to some 1,000 lounges around the world. The company has three levels of membership. The cheapest is $89 a year, and visits to each lounge are $27. For an introductory fee of $224, the member gets 10 free visits, and can bring a guest for $27. For the very frequent traveler in your life, there's a $359 "prestige" package that includes lounge access fees. Guests are still $27 per visit.

Price: $25 and up

Buy now: Loungebuddy or PriorityPass

Have you over-packed?

BlueSmart luggage weighs itselfBlueSmart
Source: BlueSmart

Lock and track your bag on your phone with Bluesmart's smart luggage. The bag also has weight sensors, which can help travelers avoid the embarrassing rearrangement of their bags at the check-in counter. The new edition for a 29-inch tall suitcase is on preorder (delivered in January) and costs $460 on preorder. But it's worth the wait.

(One thing to note, however, on Dec. 1, some U.S. airlines said starting next year they would prohibit passengers from bringing "smart" luggage on board if the lithium-ion batteries inside cannot be removed. BlueSmart's batteries cannot be removed. The restriction will take effect Jan. 15, 2018. The baggage maker said it would ask FAA for an exemption.)

Price: $460

Buy now: Bluesmart 29" Smart Luggage

No fumbling on the security line

The Catalina weekend deluxe bag.
Source: Lo & Sons.

Laptops out? Tablets out? No problem. The Lo & Son's Catalina Weekender Deluxe bag's zipper on the bottom makes the mad dash on the security line much easier. It is the perfect carry-on for a long weekend out of town, a business trip or a longer vacation. Great, strong zippers and durable canvas can handle heavy packers, but be warned, those who need constant wardrobe changes and who lack overhead bin access might find it a tight squeeze under the seat.

Price: $148 and up

Buy now: Catalina Weekender Deluxe

Easy on, easy off

Source: Rachelcomey.com

Wearing Lace-up or even zip-up shoes is an easy way to make enemies on the security line. Slip-on is best for keeping the airport security line moving (and keeping your sanity in tact).

Pull-on boots this winter like Rachel Comey's Mars bootie (available in black, nude and brighter statement colors like whiskey, or Rag and Bone's Spencer Pebble-Grain Leather Chelsea boot will make a trip through the security line faster (and a walk through the airport more fashionable). If you're giving a gift to someone traveling to a warmer climate or who would like to kick back in a slip-on sneaker, try the Fly London Ilo slip-on sneaker, or the Vans Classic slip-on sneaker.

Price: $426

Buy now: Rachel Comey Bootie

Source: mrporter.com
Source: Nordstrom

Price: $117

Buy now: Fly London Ilo Slip-On Sneaker

Source: Zappos

Price: $50 and up

Buy now: Vans Classic slip-on sneaker

Stay warm on board

Source: Everlane

You'd be forgiven for wondering if your cabin is doubling as a Ben and Jerry's storage facility. Free blankets, sadly, are harder to come by, so the right sweater, like the Everlane cashmere square turtleneck or, the Nordstrom Men's shop quarter-zip cashmere pullover could make a difference between a miserable flight and a pleasant one for your favorite traveler.

Price: $150 and up

Buy now: Everlane cashmere square turtleneck

Source: Nordstrom

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