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Booking airline tickets during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays can create panic in even the most seasoned traveler.  Prices in airline tickets can change on a moment to moment basis on a good day.  Add in the holiday mix and the airlines are only too eager to charge you a month’s rent + for a ticket during this peak season.

Smart Traveler posted some tips on surviving the holiday airline ticket purchasing process.

Not sure when to look for the best deal on holiday airfare? It’s easy to second-guess yourself into a booking stupor, so we’re going to give you an early gift: six easy-to-follow guidelines to make choosing your flight the least stressful part of your holidays. Airports will be full and planes will be packed, but these tips will help you make the best of a very busy season.

Book Early

Here’s Why: The holidays are the busiest travel times of the year, and demand drives prices up.

Want to share the Thanksgiving table with family? So do millions of others. This year, in addition to the usual high demand, you’ll also have to factor in reduced capacity: According to Boyd Group International, U.S. airlines will offer seven million fewer seats than in 2011.

Even if you ignore everything else on this list, heed this advice. Booking early means giving up the miniscule chance that prices will drop, but it gives you a far better shot at getting the flight you want for a price that doesn’t make you want to cry. Booking earlier gives you more nonstop options, better flight times, and an increased chance of avoiding connections through airports that could be affected by winter weather.

My Vacation Lady has seen airfares higher this year than ever.  Will they come down as we get closer?  You have a better chance of winning the lottery than waiting for holiday airfares to come down.

Compare, Compare, Compare

Here’s Why: Slight differences in availability, capacity, and schedules can cause variation among airfare sellers.

Don’t have time to do a thorough comparison? Then simplify by checking prices on your route once and then setting up fare alerts so that price fluctuations will come to you.

My Vacation Lady suggests checking a website like Kayak which will scan multiple websites and booking engines for the lowest fares.

Avoid Peak Travel Days

Here’s Why: By avoiding the busiest travel times, you won’t need to pay the premium for the days with highest demand.

Avoid peak departure and return dates and you’ll find cheaper prices and more choices… Key days to avoid are the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the four days leading up to Christmas Eve, and the week between Christmas and New Year’s. The best days to travel include Thanksgiving Day and December 24 or 25.

 

Be Flexible

Here’s Why: Flexibility with travel dates, or the willingness to fly in or out of an alternative airport, can significantly cut travel costs.

When it comes to holiday travel, flexibility takes on many forms. If you have some wiggle room on travel dates, you will likely find better prices and more selection. And if you are willing to fly into or out of alternate airports (say, Oakland instead of San Francisco or Manchester instead of Boston), you might just find a far more affordable flight option. Being open to flights with connections is another way to increase your options, but it’s always wise to consider whether the savings are canceled out by the additional time and hassle of layovers.

My Vacation Lady is working on a Thanksgiving week family vacation and by moving the departure and return up just one day, the price of the flights were $400 less (and non stop).  Multiple that by a family of 4 and you have a significant savings.

If You Want To Book Award Travel, Be Realistic

Here’s Why: Award travel is based around airlines offloading seats they don’t think they’ll sell for cash.

If you haven’t already booked award travel for holiday flights, you’re out of luck. That is, unless you’re willing to look beyond coach and spend more miles for business-class seats, which tend to have availability long after coach-class award travel is sold out. Another award-travel option is to gamble on last-minute availability, when airlines offer up unsold seats to frequent flyers. But we don’t recommend waiting if you really need to be somewhere for the holidays.

Factor In Fees

Here’s Why: All that time and work spent finding the best fare can be easily undone if you end up shelling out a lot of extra money for ancillary fees such as baggage charges.

With carriers adding up to $35 for first checked bags, and airlines charging for everything from booking to choosing a seat, it’s wise to factor in extra fees before deciding which airfare is truly the cheapest. Often, it’s worth paying a bit more on the base fare to fly with an airline that’s not going to drain your wallet at the airport.

If you are traveling for the holidays, whether it is to celebrate with family or get away on vacation, the earlier you can book, the better.

Smart Traveler offers some very good ideas and tips and ye, be realistic even if you are paying for tickets.  The airlines know that you want to travel so it’s all a matter of supply and demand.  Good luck and safe travels.