Expert Guide to Savings on Holiday Airfare

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If you're going to travel this Thanksgiving, read this now. It's loaded with handy travel tips and ticket pricing information plus ways to save time or money or both.

Don't have your ticket yet? Like I said, read this now. Then, get off your behind and start shopping. You don't have a moment to lose.

Now for the financial facts of life for Thanksgiving and Christmas airfare.

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

Holiday Airline Ticket Prices Holiday flights are going to be expensive (with one exception, which I'll get to shortly). Yes, there are deals for the brief period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, from about Nov. 27 up to about Dec. 18 so if you need a little mini-break on the cheap, that's the time to go. Otherwise you will spend money.

On average, airfare prices rose about 5 percent overall this year, but Thanksgiving and Christmas will be much worse. Watch holiday ticket prices jump from 30 to 70 percent over "normal" pricing depending on the route you take, and as you can see by the percentages prices will vary greatly. One way to save is by choosing connecting flights over non-stops. If you take direct flights, you can factor in an additional painful premium of 10 to 20 percent.

Exception: Holiday flights that are 500 miles or less - roughly an hour or so in length - will pretty much cost the same as they do during the rest of the fall and winter. Think in terms of flights that are 500 miles or less. That's because the airlines fly so many of these popular routes in a single day (examples: Dallas - Houston, or even Los Angeles - San Francisco).

Prices to Look For During Holidays

This is a rough guide so don't panic if you can't find these prices but it gives you something to shoot for as you look for holiday airfare. The sooner you shop, the better chance you'll have of meeting these airfare goals.

• Flights up to 500 miles: approximately $200 round-trip

• Flights from 500 - 1,500 miles: approximately $350 - $400 round-trip

• Flights over 1,500 miles: approximately $400 - $500 round-trip

When to Purchase Holiday Airfare

Short answer: Buy holiday tickets now. Here's why.

Thanksgiving: The longer you delay, the worse it gets. If your ticket purchase is delayed after Nov. 1, add an average of $5-$10 per day to your airfare total until you finally pull out that credit card and pull the trigger. Waiting will not bring any magical savings.

Christmas: The best time to purchase this airfare is by Nov. 10; after the second week in November you can start adding an average of $5-$10 to your final ticket price for each day you delay beyond that.

Cheaper Days to Fly During the Holidays You can save money by flying the "cheaper" days. Cheapest days of all: the actual holiday.

Thanksgiving: Cheaper days include the Monday before the Turkey Day (Nov. 19) and Thanksgiving Day itself (Nov. 22). If at all possible, try to avoid flying on the Wednesday before and the Sunday and Monday after Thanksgiving.

Christmas: You can really save if you can travel a little early, up until Dec. 18; after that, higher prices kick in although as noted flights on Christmas Day (Dec. 25) and New Year's (Jan. 1) are relative bargains.

You can also save by flying cheaper times of day such as overnights or red-eyes and early morning flights though this can be difficult if traveling with the family.

Cheaper Cities, Cheaper Routes

A few ways to save, particularly for those not locked into a specific destination.

Short flights: If you don't have to go to Mom's house for the holidays and just want to get away, check out destinations that are roughly an hour away or less. A good example is the Dallas to New Orleans flight which is only about 53 minutes long and typically won't incur a hefty holiday premium.

Western cities: Increased competition at some of the more popular cities in the West has kept airfare prices relatively low; consider Denver or the Los Angeles/Long Beach area for holiday getaways. Florida: We've been seeing good prices for flights from a number of major east coast cities to popular Florida destinations even during the holidays.

Choose Cheaper Airports

If possible, avoid mid-sized or smaller city airports because they are almost always more expensive than larger hubs. However, you must weigh the convenience factor of a longer drive to and from the airport as well as costs like pricier parking fees. Compare airfare, tote up the rest then ask yourself which will work best for you, LAX or Orange County.

Try These Fees, Avoid These Fees

Bag fees: If you must check luggage, JetBlue and Southwest are your only free bag airlines on domestic routes; otherwise, my recommendation is to use a carry-on bag and save the $50 round-trip fee (and it can be much, much more if your bag weighs more than 50 pounds). Carry-ons also save time, enabling quick airport entrances and exits.

Early boarding fees: Holidays are the perfect time to try certain fees and this is one of those fees I recommend you consider especially if traveling with the family (and especially if you are all lugging carry-ons). On some airlines like Southwest, you'll pay as little as ten bucks per person but even if it's more, it might be worth it for sheer stress relief!

Now get shopping, and safe travels.

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

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