With plane fares for the holiday season heading skyward,
travelers have little to celebrate this year. For example,
according to Orbitz.com, the average price on a round-trip ticket
from New York to Los Angeles for Thanksgiving -- from November 24
through November 30 -- went up 9% from 2009 to 2010, from $419 to
$457. Traveling the same route between December 23 and January 1
costs an average of $504 -- 24% more than last year's average fare
But you can still fly home for the holidays without breaking the
bank. Here are seven ways to get home for less:
1) Buy your tickets now.
Procrastinators, take note: With demand for flights hopping,
airlines will skip the big last-minute fare sales they offered in
recent years to fill their planes, says Rick Seaney, co-founder of
airfare shopping site FareCompare.com. He estimates that each day
you postpone booking your flight adds about $5 to your fare. For
Christmas and New Year's travel, book by mid November to find the
2) Fly when others don't want to.
You'll land some of the cheapest fares if you adjust your schedule
to avoid the most traveled itineraries -- Wednesday to Sunday for
Thanksgiving, and Thursday to Sunday for both Christmas and New
Year's. The holidays themselves or their eves are usually the
cheapest days to fly. For example, the average round-trip domestic
fare for the most popular Christmas itinerary is $403, according to
Bing Travel. But flying on Christmas Day saves an average of $67
Bonus: Staying grounded on those busiest travel days will also
save you the holiday surcharge some major airlines are adding to
fares. Flights on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day are spared
entirely from the extra cost. Otherwise, flying anytime between
November 19 and November 29, and December 17 and January 3, will
cost $10 to $30 extra each way.
3) Make your own holiday.
If you can persuade your family and friends to celebrate outside of
the peak time periods, you'll not only avoid the surcharge but also
score much cheaper fares. For example, says Seaney, families who
gathered the week after Thanksgiving last year paid 50% less for
their plane tickets than traditional holiday observers.
4) Keep an eye on your fare, even after you buy.
Most airlines and online travel agencies will give you a rebate --
usually in travel credits or vouchers -- if your flight's price
drops below what you paid. Just be wary of fees: Some airlines
charge "re-booking" fees between $50 and $175 for domestic flights
and up to $250 for international flights. Alaska Airlines and
JetBlue do not charge to refund price drops; Southwest never
charges a ticket-change fee and will credit you the full difference
For help tracking your specific flight's price, go to
. The site will send you alerts via e-mail or Twitter as soon as it
catches a price drop. You can choose to be notified when the fare
falls $5, $10, $25 or $50. Plus, the site will do the math for you
with regard to those pesky ticket-change fees. If your refund
outweighs the fee, Yapta will tell you how to collect your travel
voucher. Note: Yapta does not currently track Southwest's flights,
so you'll have to keep an eye on the airline's fares yourself. Or
you can enlist help from
, which does keep Southwest fares on its radar -- you won't be able
to track your exact flight, but you can specify your city-to-city
5) Gobble up a last-minute "turkey fare."
These rare birds are what industry insiders call deeply discounted
plane tickets, designed to fill unsold seats at the 11th hour. If
you're still ticket-less shortly before the holidays and fares for
your desired flights are in the $700-to-$800 range, "it's probably
not going any higher than that," says Seaney, "so it might be
worthwhile to wait a couple more days and see if those turkey fares
come out." If you see fares closer to $400 or $500, nab them.
You'll find out quickly about those lower fares if you sign up
for fare alerts from sites such as
, you can also sign up for Twitter feeds that signal when prices
drop on flights from your airport of choice.
6) Book a bundled trip.
Because travel agencies lock in lower rates early, some last-minute
packages might cost less than the airfares themselves. If you don't
plan to use the hotel portion of your deal, just check that you
won't incur a fee for not showing up.
7) Ship your extra luggage.
Checking just one bag can cost up to $45 each way, and three bags
can cost up to $175. With Spirit Air, even a carry-on bag can cost
up to $45 each way. You can find details on luggage fees charged by
30 major airlines at
. For more information on mailing your bags, see
Save Money By Shipping Your Luggage
. If you end up packing your presents, remember to leave them
unwrapped until after arrival, or airport security may unwrap them