Since an increasing number of Americans are now taking the whole week off, expect big crowds, and long, slow-moving security lines at the airport today (Friday), over the weekend and of course, next week. (Thank goodness for PreCheck at this time of year, right?)
Flying during the holidays means paying a premium of anywhere from 30% to 70% compared to other times of year—especially on long haul flights, according to FareCompare.com. Christmas/New Year’s holiday period airfares are running at an average $454 this year, up 5% from the same period last year when they were $434 according to Expedia.com. Average fares during the peak Thanksgiving period are only slightly less, averaging $442, which is also up 5% compared to last year.
If you are hitting the roads or the skies next week or next month, here are five ways improve your chances of having a happy holiday trip:
1-Postpone peak season trips
If pricey holiday airfares will keep you grounded this year, celebrate with your family during “dead weeks” instead. Dead weeks are travel industry lingo for the annual low points in travel demand, which ironically come in the middle of the peak holiday travel season. And when demand plummets, so do prices.
The catch is that you have to travel when everyone else is staying at home. Dead weeks typically occur right after the big Thanksgiving rush, and again right after the Christmas/New Years rush in early January. The good news this year is that with an early Thanksgiving (Nov 22) we have one extra dead week—the last week of November—and the deals are plentiful.
For example, if you’d like to fly to San Francisco for Thanksgiving on peak days next week, you pay close to $800 round trip. But when checking on dead week deals earlier this week, we found Delta round trip fares of just $220 round trip during the dead weeks of early December. As of this morning, those fares had increased to about $327– still not bad.
2-Use dead weeks to score a good mileage run–or buy MQMs
Dead week deals are not only a great opportunity for flexible travelers to save, but an easy way for frequent travelers to top off their mileage balances on mileage runs in order to keep or bump up their cherished elite level status.
As stated above, Delta was offering roundtrips between Atlanta and San Francisco for just $220 round trip during early/mid December! That ATL>SFO round trip nets a whopping 4,300 MQMs, so that would have been money well spend. Regrettably, when we checked this morning, the deal was gone.
But it may not be gone for good. Keep an eye on this as fares have been bouncing up and down all week because ATL-SFO is a route where Delta, Southwest and AirTran are competing heavily. Expedia has a helpful tool for monitoring the lowest fares.
This week Delta unveiled a rather weak MQM buying program (compared to previous offers) for those who’d rather buy than fly… but this year, you’ll really pay up for the honor of preserving your status. The MQM prices below are $100 more expensive than last year‘s prices. Will you do it?
This fun video (which we shared before) sorta puts the whole mileage run game into perspective!
3-Book nonstop flights
While the lower price of a one-stop flight might be tempting, you increase your chances of a delay or cancellation by 100% when you take two flights instead of one to get to your destination. Why take that chance, especially if you are headed home for just a few days, and a delayed or canceled flight could spoil the entire trip?
In many cases nonstop flights cost the same, or only $50 to $100 more. I think of that extra cost as an insurance policy against a hassle-filled trip. (If you don’t know the difference between a nonstop, direct or connecting flight, please read this!)
Another tip to ensure a delay-free trip: Book early morning flights, which are frequently parked at the airport overnight and not reliant on arriving from another airport.
4-Stay at a hotel
Why burden the in-laws with the hassle of houseguests during the already stressful holidays? Instead of bunking on that lumpy sofa bed or stuffy guest room, book a nearby hotel.
Due to lack of demand from business travelers, most hotels are dirt-cheap during the holidays, and offer the chance experience a five-star hotel at a two or three star price.
Example: Do you have family visiting for the holidays? I’ve found rooms at the five star InterContinental Buckhead hotel for just $139 per night during Thanksgiving or Christmas, while at other times of year they go for $400+.
Rooms at comfortable suburban hotels like Best Western that may be closer to your relatives are likely starving for business during the holidays—so call the hotel directly to see if you can negotiate a great deal.
Or show off your travel-tech-savvy by pulling out your fancy new iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy S3 and using last minute hotel-deal apps like HotelTonight to score some amazing rates.
5-Splurge a little
While you can always pay a lot more to sit in first class, you can now pay a little bit more, and get a more comfortable coach seat. During the busy, crowded holidays, that’s money well spent.
While getting a few extra inches of room always helps, the real benefit of paying for a better economy seat is that you are usually allowed to board early—with elite level flyers. Early boarding means you get early access to scarce overhead bin space, and since these seats are located near the front of the plane, you’ll be among the first to exit when the plane lands.
These premium economy seats cost from $20 to $200 more, depending on the duration of the flight. For example, for a trip home for the holidays, those without Medallion status could pay Delta $70 extra for one of its Economy Comfort seats for the 4-5 hour nonstop between Atlanta and San Francisco. A cheaper option would be Southwest’s EarlyBird check in fee of just $10 each way—which gets you closer to the front of the line for boarding.
Have a great trip and a very happy holiday!
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