Thanksgiving 2012: When to Fly, When to Book

PHOTO: The time when you fly is almost as important as when you book your flight.

Thanksgiving is less than one month away. Below are seven tips for savings from a travel industry insider.

Book now. Right now.

Booking travel for peak periods – like Thanksgiving – should take place as early as possible. It is extremely unusual for prices to go down as the holiday gets closer. In fact, the last time this happened was in 2008 when the price of oil (and therefore, airfare) was too high for the limited demand. The airlines quickly took control of this situation by downsizing aircraft and parking planes in the desert. They were able to limit capacity and then again raise prices.

Besides lower prices, you will also get a better selection. Direct flights at choice times sell out first. Booking early is also crucial to making sure your family is seated together without having to pay extra.

When you fly is almost as important as when you book

Booking early is important (see #1). But equally as important is when you fly. Hoping to fly out the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and return the Sunday following? So is everyone else. Avoid peak days and you'll avoid crowds and higher prices. The cheapest days to fly over the Thanksgiving travel period are: November 19, 22, 27, 28, 29 and 30.

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Know what a "deal" is for Thanksgiving airfare

The average cost of a round-trip domestic flight this Thanksgiving is about $400 including tax. That's higher than last year, and expected to go even higher as the holiday draws near. Keep that average in mind while you're shopping and know that prices in that range are on the right track. Anything lower, especially for a direct, long-haul flight should be purchased immediately.

Don't forget about alternate airports

An alternate airport is basically a nearby, or secondary airport. For example, should you find yourself flying from the New York City area to South Florida (one of the most popular routes around the holidays) you have five airports to pick from in the New York area (New York City's JFK and LaGuardia, Newark, Westchester and Long Island Islip) and three to pick from in South Florida (Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach).

You may be flying out of an area serviced by just one airport. It's important to know about all the airports in and around your destination so you can see all your options. My co-worker, who lives in New York City, didn't know there was an airport in Westchester. This is the kind of information that can really come in handy when booking a holiday flight.

Connections are almost always cheaper

Sorry, but it's true. They're less desirable and therefore, cheaper. If you choose to book a flight with a connection, leave at least two hours to make your connecting flight. This will give you a buffer to account for any delays on the first flight and allow the airline plenty of time to transfer any checked bags.

Choose your airline carefully to save on fees

Nearly every major carrier charges for checked bags. JetBlue, however, does allow one free checked bad and Southwest allows two. If you must check bags, booking with these airlines will save you a minimum of $50, and that's if just one person in your party checks just one bag. Spirit Airlines, which charges for nearly everything, will begin charging up to $100 each way for a carry-on bag as of Nov. 6. Allegiant Air also charges for carry-on bags.

Fly early in the morning

If you can book a 6 a.m. flight, do it. The earliest flights of the day tend to be the cheapest. They are also the most likely to leave on time. Prices and potential delays go up as the day goes on.

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