Book airfares now for Thanksgiving travel

Book airfares now for Thanksgiving travel

Don’t get stuck with a turkey of an airfare. You’ll pay a price for each day you delay.

Published: October 10, 2014 03:30 PM

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Flying during the holidays is expensive. There’s no way around it. And while base ticket prices are expected to be about the same as they were last season, that’s little consolation as recent fares are substantially higher than they were earlier in the decade.

That’s the assessment from Rick Seaney, founder of Fare Compare, the travel-planning website that tracks real-time fare data from more than 500 airlines.

The good news is that seats remain plentiful, though the supply is expected to dwindle toward the end of this month, which means dramatic price increases. As a rough rule of thumb, you can expect fares to rise in October by about $3 per ticket for each day you delay booking, Seaney says. For example, if you considered buying airfare in late September but didn’t get around to it until the end of October, you’ll pay about $150 extra.

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 “Procrastinators fall right into hands of airlines who have been studying our buying behavior for decades,” Seaney said. “They know we are late to the game and raise prices knowing that folks' backs are against a wall. By far, shopping early for any holiday is the most important thing to getting a ‘better’ bad deal.”

Fare Compare analyzed its data to come up with the most economical dates to fly. In general, the lowest fares from the largest number of cities were available when departing on Nov. 27 (Thanksgiving Day) and returning on Dec. 2 (Tuesday), followed by a Nov. 25 (Tuesday) departure and Dec. 2 (Tuesday) return. The best alternative after that tends to be a Nov. 24 (Monday) flight out and Nov. 28 (Friday) return.

To gauge how fares can differ on a particular route, we did our own real-world exercise, pricing Thanksgiving travel between New York and Los Angeles at dozens of sites. We shopped for a nonstop, nonrefundable fare. We conducted our study on the same day, from the same computer, within a four-hour time frame.

The results were astounding. Depending on your day of travel, prices varied by as much as $452 per round-trip ticket. Monday Nov. 24 and Thanksgiving day proved the cheapest days to fly out; The day after the holiday, Friday Nov. 28, and Tuesday Dec. 2 were the best days to head home. Whatever you do, try to avoid returning on a Sunday, which was by far the costliest travel day.

 

Departure

 

 

Return

Friday

Nov. 28

Return

Saturday

Nov. 29

 

Return

Sunday

Nov. 30

 

Return

Monday

Dec. 1

Return

Tuesday

Dec. 2

Monday

 Nov. 24

 

 

$377

 

$517

 

$712

 

$497

 

$377

Tuesday

 Nov. 25

 

 

$409

 

$517

 

$829

 

$505

 

 

$409

Wednesday

 Nov. 26

 

 

$397

 

$560

 

$743

 

$505

 

$397

Thursday

Nov. 27

 

 

$377

 

$517

 

$645

 

$505

 

$377

Other ways to save

Consider a connecting flight. They can sometimes cost 50 percent less thanks to hefty holiday premiums for nonstops. But in our New York to Los Angeles route, many of the connecting flights actually were pricier. And you need to factor in the costs of a long layover—extra parking lot fees, meals out, possibly even an overnight hotel stay.

Compare hometown airports vs. large hubs. Time was you could land a bargain by flying out of smaller, regional airports. It’s possible, but less likely than in the past. Today, bigger airports usually mean cheaper fares. But it’s always worth comparing fares at multiple airports to see if driving an extra hour or two will save money.

Search multiple websites.  Start with "aggregators"  that allow you to compare the deals from multiple airlines, such as Airfarewatchdog, FareCompare, and Kayak. Also try travel-agency sites, such as CheapTickets, Expedia, and Travelocity.

Fly to a cheaper destination. Fares in some cities such as Boston, Denver, and Seattle have been a source of good deals throughout the year because there’s plenty of competition from low-cost airlines, Seaney says. Check to see which airports near your destination are home to budget carriers such as Frontier.  And don't forget to compare prices in nearby cities. For instance, if you're flying to Charlotte, N.C., check the deals in Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and Greenville. It might be worth your while.

—Tod Marks

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