Thanksgiving Travel: How to Find Cheap Airfare

There is a distinct advantage to middle-age: People come to you for the holidays. At this stage of your life, you've got the space and the kids so you suck in the grandparents and don't forget all those college students heading for home. Sure, you'll fuss over the bird, but no stressing over the cost and chaos of flying.

As for the rest of us who must fly this Thanksgiving, some practical advice:

For more travel news and insights view Rick's blog at farecompare.com

First, don't just sit there - shop! If you're picky about flights, meaning you must travel certain days and/or certain times of day, you should have bought your tickets yesterday. Okay, a slight exaggeration, but you really must get on this.

The airlines are bullish on holiday travel and you need no further evidence than the successful airfare hike launched by Southwest last week that was joined by a host of other airlines. Remember, airlines don't raise prices unless they think people will pay them, so expect packed planes.

And expect a lot of competition for the "best" flights from your fellow passengers, particularly if you plan on traveling the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (Nov. 21) and the Sunday or Monday afterwards (Nov. 25, 26). These are the most popular days to travel, so these flights will be jammed, hardest to book and most expensive.

Not that picky? Good, but you should start pricing flights now and brace yourself. Airfare will not be cheap. That's typical for holiday pricing but fares on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday and Monday after are garnering a 50 to 70 percent premium compared to fares on the same days the following week. The price you pay can vary greatly depending on a route's popularity, but here's what to expect in general:

• Short-haul routes (up to 500 miles): $120+ round-trip • Medium-haul routes (from 500 to 1,500 miles): $300+ round-trip • Long haul routes (1,500 miles or more): $425+ round-trip

The good news is some days are cheaper than others and these are the sweet spots:

• Depart Monday before Thanksgiving (Nov. 19) • Depart Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 22) • Return Saturday after Thanksgiving (Nov. 24)

These flights are "only" about 10 to 40 percent more than they would be the following week, but still cheaper than the most popular days to fly. If you can't arrange your departure/return on the cheaper days, split the difference and travel one cheaper day so you'll still see some savings.

For those of you wondering if I'm crazy to suggest a flight on Turkey Day, I'm not. Fly early enough and you won't miss dinner, but you will miss the horrendous crowds.

Speaking of crowds, another way to avoid them this is by experimenting with a fee or two that you might otherwise shun as too expensive. Remember, your tickets are already high so your fee-to-airfare cost ratio is at its lowest; in other words, at these prices, what's a few bucks more? Best bet: an early boarding fee, since a holiday cut-in-line option that lets you avoid the long lines can be worth any amount of money.

Another fee to try is the better-positioned seat option which allows you to lock-in an aisle or window toward the front of the cabin which can be a life-saver if you have multiple flights and too-tight connections. There is no good time to miss a flight, but Thanksgiving is one of the worst as there may not be any extra seats on the next flight out.

What about last minute deals? Anything is possible - I mean, I didn't think a 77 pound dachshund was possible until I saw that viral video of Obie the plump pup - so a deal is not out of the question, but you simply can't count on it. Wait too long and you may wind up home alone with a frozen turkey dinner. Time to get moving. Time to shop for Thanksgiving.

The opinions expressed by Rick Seaney are his alone and not those of ABC News.

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