Thanksgiving Travel: Buy Now or Pay, Pay, Pay

Of course, you’ll pay no matter what.

— -- The calendar may say August, but in the accelerated world of airfare, now is the time for autumn leaves, pumpkins and over-the-river-and-through-the-woods.

It's just another way of saying Nov. 24 –- Thanksgiving -- is right around the corner and if you don't know this you'll pay, pay, pay.

Of course, you'll pay no matter what; airlines love Thanksgiving because of the strong demand and they raise their fares as high as they can.

How high is too high? When people quit buying, but many of us are willing to pay astronomical prices, possibly because Mom demands our presence at the table.

Nevertheless, you can find tickets for less by following this simple, 3-step game plan:

1. Choose cheaper travel dates

By planning now, you can save money and headaches; the key is to choose your itinerary carefully. This will help. It's a variation on the usual "cheapest days to fly" but there are differences for Turkey Day travel.

More Expensive days to fly:
- Wednesday before (Nov. 23)
- Sunday after (Nov. 27)

Cheaper days to fly
- Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 24)
- Tuesday before (Nov. 22)
- Friday after (Nov. 25)
- Tuesday after (Nov. 29)

See what a difference a day or two makes; these are round-trip prices for non-stop holiday itineraries on flights from Richmond to Orlando (fares found Aug. 24).

- Wednesday to Sunday: $638
- Tuesday to Saturday: $484
- Thanksgiving Day to Tuesday: $290

You may not see such big differences for all routes and there are usually price variations for non-stops and connecting flights but this gives you an idea of what the holiday season will be like.

2. Book flights now

Unless you're currently living on the Space Station or maybe pulling submarine duty there's no reason to delay shopping unless you're really, really rich. But even wealthy folks would rather not pay more than they have to, so listen up: Waiting to buy Thanksgiving tickets is going to cost you, month after month.

The following dates are approximate:

- Sept. 1 – 15: Add an extra $1 per day (on average) for each day you delay booking
- Sept.15 – Oct. 31: Add an extra $2 per day
- Nov. 1 - Thanksgiving: Add an extra $4 per day

If you wait to buy your tickets until late October, you'll pay an additional $100. To me, that's just throwing money away.

3. Forget the last-minute bargains

You may hear about last-minute deals, how airlines will almost give away tickets to fill up their planes, but I'm afraid that information is years out of date.

Today, airlines have become experts on capacity, figuring out how many seats are needed for each route so every plane is filled (or as close to filled as humans and computers can do this). In other words, airlines know how many seats we want for Thanksgiving, so they don’t have to drop prices. Shop now.

Rick Seaney is the CEO of FareCompare, a website that curates the best deals on flights from around the world

Any opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author.