The Air Transport Association of America (ATA) reports that 37,000 fewer Americans per day will be flying this Thanksgiving break versus last. Good news? Not so fast. The major airlines' steady capacity cuts this year mean that holiday flights are likely to be just as full (and uncomfortable) as years past with at an estimated 23.2 million people flying in the brief 12-day holiday period. And if you haven't yet booked your holiday flights, I'm not going to lie: Fares are pretty high! But I do still see a glimmer of hope, too.
How Fares are Faring
I've been tracking Thanksgiving and Christmas peak-season travel since the summertime and have seen fares spike. Compared to last month, 67 percent (percentage rounded to nearest whole number) of the Thanksgiving routes are higher by 11 percent; and by as much as 16 percent versus this time last year.
Christmas fares are still relatively affordable only seeing a 4 percent increase since last month, but compare them to last year and you can expect to pay 17 percent more.
Relief from Outrageously High Holiday Fares
Save your cash for presents instead of overpriced airfare and consider alternate airports, many of which offer shuttle service between airports. Heading to Miami? Try Ft. Lauderdale, which is serviced by many low-cost carriers, among them JetBlue, Southwest, and Spirit.
If mom lives too far from a secondary airport to exclude that option, keep holiday fares affordable by traveling during off-peak days. Avoid November 22, 23, 26, or 27 during the Thanksgiving break; and 22, 23, 24, and 26 for Christmas.
If they know what's good for them, airlines should slow down their pace with fare hikes and obnoxious fees because rail travel has seen a lift in holiday passengers as of late. While you likely won't get to your destination faster than flying, the benefits of taking the train are attractive: avoid security screening hassles, board as many bags as you can lug, free Wi-Fi, and arriving at city centers.
Whether it's planes, trains, or automobiles, have safe and happy holidays!