Facing a recession, millions of Americans are choosing not to travel for Thanksgiving this year. Now, with less than two weeks left before the holiday, it may be cheaper than ever to book.
On average domestic airfares are 9 percent higher compared to 2007, and 10 percent fewer passengers are expected to fly over the 12-day period from November 21 through December 2, according to the ATA.
The drop in demand, combined with falling oil prices, has had airlines and hotels slashing rates in recent weeks as they scramble to fill seats and rooms. Travelers will now pay $393 on average for a domestic airfare ticket this Thanksgiving, down from $404 just three weeks ago, according to a recent poll from Travelocity.
"There are still affordable prices," said Kristen Celko, vice president of marketing and e-commerce for STA Travel.
"In the past few weeks there has been a reduction in domestic fuel surcharges on select routes that can decrease the total cost of a ticket by $160."
Whether you still need to book your trip home or have a last-minute getaway in mind, it's not too late find a good deal.
Despite the decrease in air traffic this year, Thanksgiving will remain the busiest travel season of the year. The best way to find a lower fare, and avoid the crowds, is by choosing off-peak days.
"Because Thanksgiving is such a compact holiday, the vast majority of travelers hit the roads at the same time . . . If you can, avoid traveling on Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday," said Pauline Frommer , author of the Pauline Frommer's Travel Guides.
According to Wendy Perrin, consumer news editor of Conde Nast Traveler, "the best times to fly for Thanksgiving will be midday on the Monday before the holiday, Thanksgiving Day itself, and the Friday after."
If possible, book now before the seven-day price window closes. "Flight prices rise and fall based on capacity, however as a general rule you want to book at week in advance," said Celko.
Surf the Web for special offers and discounted packages. Perrin recommends signing up for as many fare alerts as possible to be able to jump on a deal. One of her favorites is the deal blog at FareCompare.com , which features three new deals everyday.
Web sites such as Kayak and Orbitz will also automatically track your itinerary and e-mail you with fare updates. For real-time pricing, download the Yahoo! FareChase widget to your desktop and watch prices swing on your route. Just be sure to grab a deal when you see it.
"These days the fare sales are so short-lived. You need to buy within short windows," Perrin advised.
Also consider the online travel auctions, which often offer steep discounts, albeit with risks. "If you're desperate to get there and don't care when you'll fly or how, try such opaque booking sites as Priceline.com and Hotwire.com," said Frommer. "You'll need to use their bidding blind sections, though, not the ordinary booking sections."
If you're low-tech or low on time, don't hesitate to call a travel agent. "In many cases agents do have better deals, however they always have an advantage over technology. At times finding the absolute lowest deal is accomplished by combining segments and ticket attributes that a Web site may not be equipped to deliver in an online result set," explained Celko.
Nowadays vacation comes in such small doses that more and more people are forgoing the weekend pilgrimage home and using Thanksgiving time off to take a big trip.
This year the strengthening U.S. dollar and recent drop in airfares have made some previously cost-prohibitive international destinations affordable once again.
"Europe is a good value right now. With the dollar gaining on the euro, you can get can travel to Europe for significantly less than a few months ago," said Celko.
The best deals are typically hotel and airfare packages. Frommer recommends Icelandairusa.com, GoToday.com and Gate1Travel.com.
For a warmer alternative and still favorable exchange rate, Celko suggested South America. "In November, temperatures in Argentina are still in the 70s and 80s," she said.
Thanks to a decrease in flight routes and business travel, combined with a glut of a new hotels, "there are a lot of hotel deals and we're only going to see more," said Perrin.
One of the places she is seeing the best value is in Hawaii, where hotel occupancy fell to just 63 percent in September. For some of the best deals in Hawaii she recommends: BeatofHawaii.com and GoVisitHawaii.com.
If like being on the water, you're also in luck. According to Frommer, November is a great month for cruise values. Two sites she recommends are LeisureLarry.com and the deals section of CruiseCritic.com.
For more tips, ideas and deals check out the following Web sites:
Conde Nast Traveler (www.cntraveler.com)