5 Reasons to Panic About Holiday Travel ... Now
The Thanksgiving holiday is fast approaching and early bird deals on airfares are drying up. According to Rick Seaney, analyst and CEO for travel website FareCompare, roughly two months out is the best time to shop for holiday airfares and desired flight times. As the days pass, it's going to get a lot tougher to find a low-cost fare or a non-redeye flight without arriving or departing on Thanksgiving Day itself.
It may seem a bit early to start thinking about travel, turkey and stuffing, but holiday travel demand doesn't care about your calendar. Even if you haven't bought a single present, travel experts say you should consider making a plane ticket your first holiday purchase. Airline holiday travel surcharges, finite capacity and a narrow travel window all help jack up prices while reducing alternatives for procrastinators.
After consulting with the folks at TripAdvisor's(:TRIP) SmarterTravel, Priceline(:PCLN) and FareCompare, we've realized it's clearly time to panic about holiday travel. Don't think so? Go ahead, mock the holiday travel market. Here are at least five reasons you're wrong and will pay for your indecision and arrogance:
5. Everybody wants to fly when you do
We don't just mean during the holidays. We mean the exact days you do. Flying in on Nov. 21 just before Thanksgiving and leaving on Nov. 25 or Nov. 26 right after the stuffing's digested is ideal, which is why those are the most expensive days on the calendar. The price of a round-trip flight from Los Angeles to New York arriving Nov. 21 and leaving on Nov. 25 or Nov. 26 was $520 to $565 back in August. Fares on less ideal days are close to that price now and ...
4. It's not getting cheaper
FareCompare's Seaney says that while there's a chance an unexpected bargain will come up sometime between now and Thanksgiving or the winter holidays, there's a far better chance airlines will continue to cut capacity as needed and leave you with nothing. Seaney says fares jump $5 a day between now and the holidays, which jacks up the price of your ticket $35 for every week you wait. Right now, fares start at roughly $120 round trip for a short-haul flight of 500 miles or less and $425 for long-haul flights of 1,500 miles or more. Just don't give those starting-at prices too much credence. According to SmarterTravel, last year round-trip fares from New York to Charleston, S.C., reached $960 by October while a flight from Boston to Dallas was nearly $800 a month out. Also ...
3. Bargains are still costly
Fliers can still get some of the lower holiday fares, but they'll cost some convenience. Priceline notes that the best days to fly during Thanksgiving week are Tuesday, Nov. 20, and Thanksgiving Day itself on Nov. 22. If you can wait until the following week to head home, Tuesday, Nov. 27, through Friday, Nov. 30, are wide open and fairly inexpensive. It's nearly impossible to avoid the major airlines' $10 to $35 holiday surcharges during December, but if you can fly out Tuesday, Dec. 18, and wrap up your vacation by New Year's Eve, there may be a deal for you yet. Just don't try the same tricks you used to get the family to Disney World this summer because ...
2. Layovers may not help
Sacrificing a nonstop flight for a 30-minute layover usually cuts hundreds of dollars off of the price of air travel, but that rule goes out the window during Thanksgiving. Seaney says a layover may help lower a fare, but it just as easily may not. Take some time to compare prices and see if the difference is worth the aggravation. A $10 disparity for one person making a round-trip flight could be an easy price to pay for convenience. A family of four paying $20 more per ticket apiece may want to consider that layover in Milwaukee. The Alterra coffee is surprisingly good, but be careful because ...
1. Everybody's using the same tricks
It's just a matter of using them before the other beleaguered family at the boarding gate. Try smaller, less hectic airports within striking distance, such as Providence, R.I., or Manchester, N.H., for Boston; Philadelphia or Newburgh, N.Y., for New York City; or Long Beach for Los Angeles. Stick to airlines such as JetBlue(:JBLU) and Southwest(:LUV) to avoid baggage fees and consider springing for early boarding or extra legroom if you think it will cut down on the holiday hassle. If you don't try these tactics now, someone else will in the not-too-distant future.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.
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