How to Save on Thanksgiving Airfare

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My editor swears this is a near-exact transcript of a recent text chat between an exasperated mother and a procrastinating progeny. The subject: buying airline tickets to get the college kid home for Thanksgiving.

Mother: "Need 2 buy ur plane tix turkey day, when u free 2 fly?"

College Kid: "Dunno"

Mother: "Need this info!"

College Kid: "Let u know"

Mother: "When?"

College Kid: "Dunno"

Mother: "ARGHHHHHHHH!!!"

Don't make Mom any crazier. If you don't have your airline tickets for Thanksgiving travel, get going -- and my website has a Thanksgiving Flight Finder for the cheapest roundtrip tickets between the top 50 U.S. cities, that saves you hours of hunting on multiple sites.

Why the rush? The price of Turkey Day flights will rise about $5 a day for every day you delay. But whether you already have your airfare or you're still procrastinating, I've got ways to help you save.

For more air travel news and insights visit Rick's blog at:

Don't look for last minute discounts this year. Too many of us stayed home last Thanksgiving, and there seems to be a universal decision on the public's part that we will all head for the airport this year, which means ticket prices will be higher -- as much as 17 percent above last year's airfares.

So if you haven't bought tickets yet, here are some tips for you, followed by tips on how to save even if you already made your purchase. Let's get to it.

Need I say, the time to buy is now? But first, read this:

Fly When Everyone Else Isn't Flying

Everyone likes to take off for their Thanksgiving travel on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday and guess when all those folks want to return? Yes, Sunday and Monday. So stay away from those days if at all possible, and book your return flights for Friday or Saturday and save both money and hassles at the airport.

Want to save more? Fly at inconvenient times: overnights, at dawn, and on Thanksgiving Day itself. The holiday -- Thursday -- is the cheapest day to fly, but if you time it right, you'll be home in plenty of time for family, food and football. Bonus: easy-to-navigate empty airports.

This is where it helps to look at an airline surcharge chart; if you can't avoid the surcharge days altogether, you can at least fly on days when surcharges are cheaper.

When you return matters, too: leave on Friday or Saturday, to beat the Sunday rush -- and the more expensive cost of flying that day.

Let Technology Work for You

I mentioned the FareCompare Thanksgiving Flight Finder earlier, but you can use any airline ticket finding site that shows you prices for multiple carriers, so you don't waste time going from site to site. That way, you avoid going back to grab that price you saw an hour earlier, only to find it's already disappeared.

Use Your Frequent Flier Miles

Got miles? Use them. When ticket prices are cresting $450 roundtrip, this is a perfect time to redeem your frequent flier miles. And do it outside of the 14 day departure window to avoid the last minute redemption fees.

Buy Multiple Tickets One-at-a-Time

Due to a quirk in the airline reservations systems -- a quirk in favor of the airlines, naturally -- if you search for four tickets and there is one seat available at a cheaper price, you won't see it. The reservation system is geared to show you the same price for all tickets in a single purchase, so shop one-at-a-time and you may save.

Okay, you have your tickets - are there other ways to save? You bet.

Don't Bump Up the Bag Fees

If you must check a bag, just check one (JetBlue gives you one for free, while Southwest is the only carrier with two free bags). Remember, on many airlines, checking one bag costs $50 roundtrip, and checking a second, adds $120 to a roundtrip flight. And keep bags under 50 pounds, please - those overweight bag charges are killers.

Or get one of those branded airline credit cards that'll give you bags for free.

My philosophy: never check a bag if you can possibly help it. Thanksgiving is such a short holiday; surely you can pack what you need in a carry-on. And it's free - with the sole exception of Spirit Airlines which will charge you for that privilege.

Check in Early

And by check in early, I mean do it at 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds before departure. Why? You'll have a field of empty bins to yourself when you board, which will be handy if you brush up against the bag rule with a large carry-on; you'll find a spot for it.

Avoid the High Cost of Taxis and Parking

Your airfare is going to be expensive enough without paying $70 for a taxi; try public transportation, like Los Angeles International's FlyAway Bus service or the many transportation options from New York City area airports. Hint: this is easier if you use a carry-on bag.

Or enlist a friend or neighbor to swap airport shuttle duties with; they give you a ride at Thanksgiving and you play chauffeur when they need to go out of town. Or promise to make that fabulous Buche de Noel with Marzipan Mushrooms for their Christmas dessert in exchange for a lift to the airport at Thanksgiving.

Pack a Lunch

Yes, some airlines will still give you a free pack of peanuts or pretzels, and that's about it. Avoid the inflated food prices at the airport and on the plane by packing your own sandwich.

By the way, that text chat you read about at the beginning of the column? All ended well, according to my editor: tickets were purchased in a semi-timely manner, so the bank wasn't broken, and the college kid sent Mom a message that went something like this:

College Kid: "Thx, Mom! Cant wait 2 see u!"

A happy ending. And isn't that what Thanksgiving's all about? I guess the main thing to take away from all this is, bite the bullet, pay the inflated cost of the airfare but save where you can. And don't sweat the small stuff.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and does not reflect the opinion of ABC News.

Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations that include ABC News, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the Associated Press and Bloomberg. His website,, offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deals.