Thanksgiving travel: 3 big ways to save on going out of town

Thanksgiving is on the early side this year — Nov. 23 — but it may seem light years away if you still have to hang those skeletons and carve those pumpkins.

We’re already in procrastination territory in terms of booking travel for the holiday, but these three hacks will help get you to grandma’s house without breaking the bank.

1. Don’t throw away two dollars a day

If you plan to fly at Thanksgiving and haven’t booked tickets yet, you are now throwing away $2 per day for each day you delay your purchase. That’s the average per traveler fare-hike based on analyzing my storehouse of airfare data. And watch out: come November, that figure is likely to double.

But perhaps you’re one of those travelers who thinks, “So what, fares aren’t that expensive these days.” You’re right — except Thanksgiving can never be confused with ordinary days, it is the most expensive travel holiday in the U.S. all year. Maybe you can still afford to pay a crazy high airfare — but why would you?

My advice never changes: Don’t spend a penny more than you have to. In other words, get your plans finalized as soon as possible.

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2. Don’t throw away money flying the wrong days

You know flights on the Wednesday before and Sunday after Thanksgiving (Nov. 22, Nov. 26) are popular, but did you know they’re generally the most expensive days to fly all year?

As for the cheapest days to fly at Thanksgiving, they vary depending on where you live, but finding cheap flights is easier thanks to are some handy airfare search tools out there.

The tool on my website, FareCompare, shows Thanksgiving travelers the cheapest days to fly for their particular destination and also name specific airlines that offer the most cheap flights to various regions.

3. Don’t take the easy way out

Yes, inconvenience can save you money. Here’s how:

Look at connections: We all like nonstop flights and sometimes it’s the cheapest way to travel — but not always. Make it a point to compare direct routes with connections; adding a stop to a flight will mean a longer travel day, but it could also mean big savings.

Head to a hub: If you live in a mid-size city, or a smaller town, but there’s a large, hub-type airport within driving distance, compare fares to your destination from both your hometown and the bigger airport. The price differential could be eye-opening and make a longer trip to the airport seem like no big deal.

Carry your own bag: You’ve heard me say this before, but I’ll say it again: pack a carry-on bag. Most airlines don’t charge for carry-ons, but even if you must pay a fee, it’s still be worth it, because airlines can’t lose luggage that travels by your side. Plus, if you’ve ever been one of nearly 400 passengers on a Boeing 777 — and your checked-bag is the very last bag to turn up on the carousel, you know what a pain that wait can be. Thanksgiving is a short holiday, so don’t worry about whether or not your carry-on has enough room for all your stuff; trust me, it does.