November 19 2012 by Chris McGinnis
Flying during the holidays means paying a premium of anywhere from 30% to 70% compared to other times of year--especially on long haul flights. Christmas/New Year's holiday period airfares are running at an average $454 this year, up 5% from the same period last year when they were $434. Average fares during the peak Thanksgiving period are only slightly less, averaging $442, which is also up 5% compared to last year.
If you are hitting the roads or the skies next week or next month, here are five ways improve your chances of having a happy holiday trip:
1-Book nonstop flights
While the lower price of a one-stop flight might be tempting, you increase your chances of a delay or cancellation by 100% when you take two flights instead of one to get to your destination. Why take that chance, especially if you are headed home for just a few days, and a delayed or canceled flight could spoil the entire trip?
In many cases nonstop flights cost the same, or only $50 to $100 more. I think of that extra cost as an insurance policy against a hassle-filled trip. (If you don't know the difference between a nonstop, direct or connecting flight, please read this!)
Another tip to ensure a delay-free trip: Book early morning flights, which are frequently parked at the airport overnight and not reliant on arriving from another airport.
2-Obey the 5-hour rule
Can't decide whether to fly or drive home for the holidays? Then consider the "five hour rule." If it takes less than five hours to drive to your destination, then it's likely going to be less time-consuming, and less of a hassle to hit the roads instead of the crowded skies. A road trip makes even more sense when several family members are traveling together... and there is no fee for checking you bags in the trunk of your car.
A good example of this is the five-hour trek between San Francisco and Los Angeles. When I'm traveling on business, I'll likely fly between these two cities. But if I'm traveling with my family, or some colleagues from work, it makes much more financial sense to drive which spreads the cost across everyone in the car, and better yet, avoids much of the stress and uncertainty of holiday air travel.
3-Postpone peak season trips
If pricey holiday airfares will keep you grounded this year, celebrate with your family during "dead weeks" instead. Dead weeks are travel industry lingo for the annual low points in travel demand, which ironically come in the middle of the peak holiday travel season. And when demand plummets, so do prices.
The catch is that you have to travel when everyone else is staying at home. Dead weeks typically occur right after the big Thanksgiving rush, and again right after the Christmas/New Years rush in early January. The good news this year is that with an early Thanksgiving (Nov 22) we have one extra dead week--the last week of November--and the deals are plentiful.
Dead week deals are not only a great opportunity for flexible travelers to save, but an easy way for frequent travelers to top off their mileage balances in order to keep or bump up their cherished elite level status.
4-Stay at a hotel
Why burden the in-laws with the hassle of houseguests during the already stressful holidays? Instead of bunking on that lumpy sofa bed or stuffy guest room, book a nearby hotel.
Due to lack of demand from business travelers, most hotels are super-cheap during the holidays.
Rooms at comfortable suburban hotels that are popular with business travelers, like Best Western Plus properties that are likely located near your relatives, are likely offering great rates during the slower holiday season.
5-Splurge a little
While you can always pay a lot more to sit in first class, you can now pay a little bit more, and get a more comfortable coach seat. During the busy, crowded holidays, that's money well spent.
While getting a few extra inches of room always helps, the real benefit of paying for a better economy seat is that you are usually allowed to board early--with elite level flyers. Early boarding means you get early access to scarce overhead bin space, and since these seats are located near the front of the plane, you'll be among the first to exit when the plane lands.
These premium economy seats cost from $20 to $200 more, depending on the duration of the flight. For example, for a trip home for the holidays, you could pay Delta $70 extra for one of its Economy Comfort seats for the 4-5 hour nonstop between San Francisco and New York. A cheaper option would be Southwest's EarlyBird check in fee of just $10 each way--which gets you to the front of the line for boarding.
Have a great trip and a very happy holiday!
Chris McGinnis is Best Western's travel trends expert and business travel blogger on youmustbetrippin.com