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Americans No Longer Have the World's Best Passport

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If you’re American, your nationality will open many doors—but not all of them, according to the 2016 Visa Restrictions Index. The annual list, released by London-based consulting firm Henley and Partners and the International Air Transport Association, ranks the countries that have the most travel freedom, based on how many nations its citizens can visit without a visa or by receiving one after they land. This year, CNN reports, America is in fourth place, down from its first-place ranking in both 2014 and 2015. And the new leader of the pack? Germany.

German passport holders can enter 177 out of 218 countries and territories without first receiving a visa. Coming in second is Sweden’s passport, which allows tourists entrance to 176 countries. And tying for third with 175 are Finland, France, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. U.S. travelers can only enter 174 countries, the same number as voyagers from Belgium, Denmark, and the Netherlands.

Curious how these rankings were formed? According to CNN, who spoke with a representative from Henley and Partners, visa requirements are affected by “diplomatic relationships between the countries, reciprocal visa arrangements, security risks, or risks of violation of visa terms.”

Despite the U.S. passport’s slip to fourth place, USA Today reports that no country on its top 10 List (which confusingly includes 28 countries) dropped more than three places. This suggests “that overall, visa-free access is improving around the world,” Henley & Partners said in a statement.

Still, it's improving at a slower pace for some countries. Afghanistan remains the country with the "worst passport," allowing visa-free travel in only 25 countries. Meanwhile, Pakistan came in at 29, Iraq at 30, Somalia at 31, and Syria at 32. Want to see how your passport stacks up? Check out the full list online.

[h/t CNN]

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Want Priority Boarding On Your Alaska Airlines Flight This Holiday Season? Wear an Ugly Christmas Sweater
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Between steep fares and crowded terminals, flying during the holidays isn’t fun. But on Friday, December 15, a special Alaska Airlines promotion will ease boarding stress and transform packed planes into mile-high ugly sweater parties, in honor of National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day. As the Los Angeles Times reports, the airline will offer free early boarding to travelers willing to don their holiday worst at the airport.

The promotion is good for all Alaska Airlines flights in the airline’s 115-city network, and for flights offered by Virgin America and Horizon Air (both of which are operated by Alaska Airlines). In addition to escaping the waiting crowds, passengers who share the most festive knitted looks will be featured on Alaska Air's social media pages if they tag their photos and videos using the hashtags #UglySweaterDay and #MostWestCoast. And since no plane aisle-turned-catwalk is complete without a soundtrack, “festive holiday-themed boarding music will play all month long to help get guests into the holiday spirit,” according to a press release.

Worried you’ll be the only person on the plane wearing a sequined Rudolph cardigan? Even if other passengers don’t get the memo, airline crew will also be wearing ugly sweaters—so feel free to unleash your inner Chevy Chase from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

[h/t Los Angeles Times]

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Here Are the Best and Worst Days for Christmas Travel
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Scott Olson/Getty Images

Flight delays are always a hassle, but the holidays add an extra layer of stress. No one wants to be stuck at the airport while their family is digging into Christmas dinner. And even if you fly long before the holiday itself, airports are always more hectic during the holiday season. Between the high volume of travelers and the whims of winter weather, getting off the ground doesn’t necessarily feel like a given when you leave for the airport.

But not all airports and days are equally prone to flight issues, according to U.S. Bureau of Transportation data from the last five years, as analyzed by the electric supply company Elite Fixtures, which previously analyzed the worst airports for Thanksgiving travel.

A green chart lists travel delays and flight cancellation statistics by date.
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On average, you’re less likely to be delayed if you’re traveling the week before Christmas or on the holiday itself, the data shows. December 25 has actually had the lowest percentage (18 percent) of delayed flights over the last five years, giving you a good excuse if you want to flee to the airport directly after your family’s holiday meal. Traveling December 18 and 19 is also a good idea, since only 26 percent of flights are typically delayed on those days.

A red chart details travel delay and cancellation statistics by date.
Elite Fixtures

Beware the 22nd and 23rd of December, though. On those days, an average of 32 percent and 34 percent of flights get delayed, respectively. The few days after Christmas are also likely to stick you with an annoying delay—33 and 34 percent of flights are delayed on the 26th and 27th.

A green-and-gray U.S. map highlights the 10 best airports for holiday travel with plane icons.
Elite Fixtures

Airlines don’t encounter flight difficulties in equal measure across all airports, though. If you’re flying through one of the airports above, congratulations! The likelihood of getting delayed is less than at the Houston or Oakland airports, both hubs with the highest rates of holiday flight delays in the U.S.

Unfortunately, no matter what day you fly and where you fly from, there's no way to really predict whether your flight will leave on time. You'll just have to hope that Santa brings you the seamless holiday travel experience you put on your Christmas list.

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