Planning on getting out of town for the holidays this year? Join the club. An estimated 25 million passengers are expected to travel by air this Thanksgiving, and even though the airlines have added more seats, the increased demand is pushing up prices.
Thanksgiving flights are costing an estimated 7 percent more this year than last year – and the best time to book was last week.
Experts say if you still haven’t booked a Thanksgiving flight by now, book as soon as possible, since airfares will likely continue to climb as Turkey Day approaches. The outlook is slightly better if you’re looking for a Christmas flight: A Travelocity analysis found that the best time for procrastinators to book is three weeks before the holiday (December 3-December 10), when prices historically dip to their lowest level since October.
“The best prices may have passed, but there are still ways you can be smart about booking holiday travel,” says Amy Graff, Best Western’s family travel expert.
Here are 8 ways to save.
1. Be flexible about travel dates. “For Thanksgiving, everyone wants to fly out on Wednesday and come back on Sunday, so those flights are going to cost the most,” says Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, managing editor at MiniTime.com, a website about family trip planning. The cheapest days to fly are the holidays themselves, but you can see which other dates offer decent rates by using the holiday calendar at CheapAir.com.
2. Fly into a smaller airport. Flights tend to be cheaper at tertiary airports, so expand your search to see if you can find a deal. Average airfare at Long Beach Airport, for example, is less than half the cost of airfare at Los Angeles International; and average airfare in White Plains, N.Y., is about half that at John. F. Kennedy Airport. Bonus: Smaller airports tend to have smaller crowds, cheaper parking and fewer delays.
3. Ship your gifts. Packing an extra suitcase full of gifts for loved ones (and carting home your booty after the holidays) could cost you in luggage fees. Shipping your packages may be a cheaper alternative, and it will let you pre-wrap your presents, which the Transportation Security Administration has asked travelers not to do in checked bags.
4. Head overseas. Thanksgiving is an American holiday, so if you’re able to work around family obligations, it’s a great time to score a deal on international travel. Hotels in Venice in November cost 46 percent less than in October, and hotel prices in Barcelona are down 38 percent in the same period.
5. Hit the road. If you can skip the skies altogether, you’ll find some holiday cheer at the gas pump, where prices are at the lowest they’ve been since late last year. The national average for gas may fall as low as $3.10 per gallon by the end of the year, with some local prices dipping below $3 per gallon as the holidays approach, according to AAA. Not sure whether it would be cheaper to fly or drive? Let the calculator at TravelMath.com figure it out for you.
6. Dig into discounts. Whether you’re booking a hotel room, renting a car, or even buying a plane ticket, many travel vendors offer discounts for AAA or AARP, military personnel or other groups. If you qualify, be sure to ask if a discount exists.
7. Wait to book lodging. Since so many people stay with family during the holidays, hotels often find themselves with empty rooms. Waiting to book until a few days before – or even the day of – Thanksgiving or Christmas can yield savings of up to 20 percent. If prices at the hotel of your choice don’t drop, consider cashing in hotel rewards points. “Hotel points are at their most valuable when rooms cost the most,” says Scott Grimmer, founder of MileValue.com.
8. Rent a vacation home. If you’ve got a large family, it may make sense to rent a vacation home rather than book a hotel suite or multiple rooms. “If it hasn’t been booked yet, you may have some room to negotiate with the owner,” says Jodi Grundig, a founder and editor of Family Travel Magazine.
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