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Thanksgiving Travel: Act Now or Pay More

Thanksgiving Travel

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The rush to get home for Thanksgiving dinner doesn't have to cost you hundreds of dollars. Booking a flight early and being flexible could save you money.

Even though many of us are still holding on to every last drop of summer that we can, it’s time to turn our attention to holiday travel.

According to Expedia flight data for 2016, the sweet spot for buying Thanksgiving-weekend plane tickets is 61 to 90 days out. If that formula holds true, the optimal window to book and possibly save up to 10 percent will close on Sept. 23. But even if you miss that deadline, booking sooner rather than later is a good idea for those short on cash, many travel experts agree.

If you wait until the last minute (zero to six days out), you’re likely to shell out more than 20 percent over the average ticket price.

“Timing is a big factor in getting a good deal on airfare,” Sarah Gavin, vice president of global communications at Expedia, said in a statement. “People typically know pretty far in advance whether they’re going to travel for the holidays, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on prices months out.”

The day of the week you fly also makes a difference. Rick Seaney, CEO of the air-travel planning service FareCompare, recommends avoiding travel on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (Nov. 22) and the Sunday after (Nov. 26), as these are generally the busiest and most expensive days to fly. Flying the Tuesday before and the Monday after would put less of a dent in your wallet. You’ll also save money if you fly on Thanksgiving Day (ditto if you fly on Christmas Day).

Another cost-saving tip, Seaney says, is to fly at unpopular times of day, such as around dawn or dinner or during the night.

When it comes to Christmas, Expedia flight data tells us that the best deals will come 14 to 20 days in advance of departure. If you wait until the last minute, you’re likely to pay 15 percent or more above average ticket prices.

And if you’re really keen to save some bucks during the holidays or at any other time of the year, try Skyscanner’s Best Time to Book tool, which allows you to search flights from the top 10 U.S. cities to determine the cheapest month to travel and how many weeks ahead of time you should book.

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