According to Priceline, Thanksgiving is shaping up to be cheaper for travelers than Christmas. The average Thanksgiving airfare this year is $361, compared to $440 for the December holiday period. These prices are based on holiday airfares booked on priceline.com between July 1 and October 1.
Priceline also reported that average airfares for both holidays are about 10 percent lower than last year, following what other reports have said.
Interestingly, Priceline advises people with firm travel plans to book sooner rather than later. While travelers last year found last-minute deals, Priceline's opinion is that 2009 won't be a repeat. "Last year, the economy started its freefall right before the holidays and many consumers put their wallets back in their pockets," said Priceline's so-called "Travel Ekspert," Brian Ek. "As a result, the airlines ran fare sales right into the holidays to spur demand. This year, we're not likely to see a repeat. In fact, prices may go up, since seat capacity is even lower this year compared to last year."
This is certainly possible, but considering the source (a giant online travel retailer), I'd take that advice heavily salted, thank you. 2009 is, indeed, nothing like 2008, when the holiday travel season was rocked by the near-total collapse of the global economy, causing people to hold off from travel planning or scrap their trip altogether. This year, we're simply dealing with the fallout from the fiasco. But people are still waiting as long as possible to book, holding out for the best deal out there—it's a buyer's market, after all, even during the peak holiday travel season (just look at how low prices have fallen). And while capacity cuts have greatly reduced the number of available seats, those low prices suggest the airlines aren't filling them at a rapid rate.
So the real takeaway from Priceline's information is simply this: The deals are out there, at least for some. Now is definitely the time to start benchmarking fares (before seats really start filling up, if they're going to) to get a sense of what you should expect to pay. Give yourself a few days or even weeks to see if these fares go up or down, and book when you find a price you like. Keep in mind that airlines are trying to jack up prices on the most popular travel days, but the reverse is they're leaving other dates untouched. Consider traveling on less popular days, and you may find a good deal.