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7 Tips to Book Cheap Flights for Thanksgiving

Nov. 18, 2013
Personal Finance
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Want to find cheap airfare for your Thanksgiving travel? While it may be difficult to book cheap flights during the holidays, with a little effort, you can cut down on the cost of Turkey Day travel. We’ll break down where to find cheap fares, when to book, and how to lower your costs even further.

1. Avoid peak travel days

Remember supply and demand from econ class? Unfortunately, this is a brutal application: everyone wants to fly out before Thursday and get back before Monday, so ticket prices are at their worst on Wednesday and Sunday. According to the Wall Street Journal, you can save 10% by returning on Saturday instead of Sunday. Not only will you save money, you’ll avoid the hectic crowds.

The best days to depart are the Monday or Tuesday before Thanksgiving, or even Turkey Day itself. The best return dates are Black Friday or the Tuesday or Wednesday after Thanksgiving.

2. Fly early

Everyone and their mother is trying to maximize family time by flying out after putting in one last day of work. Typically, you’ll find cheaper fares in the early morning (before 7am) or late evening (after 8). Try to avoid business travel times – that’s 8-10am and 5-7pm.

3. Try different airports – with caution

Travel search websites like Kayak and Expedia often have a “nearby airports” feature. Use it to find other airports you can depart from or arrive at to compare prices to your original choices. However, be sure to factor in the cost of transit. If you save $50 by flying into Oakland instead of San Francisco but you’d have to pay an extra $55 in cab fare, it’s not worth your time.

4. Volunteer for standby

Since there’s a decent chance a lot of Thanksgiving flights will be overbooked, your chosen airline may ask customers if they’d like to standby for future flights. You’ll get some form of compensation, like a free ticket for future use, if you volunteer. While this may not save on your current flight, it’s a great way to reduce your long-term travel expenses.

5. Use frequent flier miles

If you’re flexible on your dates, this is the perfect time to use your frequent flier miles. Since most award flights are distance-based, they’re at the most value when the price is sky-high. However, you should book soon (as in right now), because award seats are usually hard to find. You’ll also need to be flexible about when you fly.

6. Keep an eye out for savings and discounts

Check out our cash back and discount finder to shave an extra 5-10% off your ticket price. For example, you can get 5% cash back through ShopDiscover on Hotwire, or 7.5% cash back at Expedia through

7. Avoid other unnecessary fees

Airlines are notorious for sneaky fees, so been on your guard. For example:

If you absolutely need to check bags, either look for an airline that won’t charge you for it or consider getting a credit card that will waive the baggage fees.

Be careful of last-minute and phone booking fees. American Airlines levies a $75 charge on award flights booked less than 21 days out, while Delta charges $25 for phone bookings.

Minimize airport parking costs. Our cheap airport parking finder helps you compare the parking options at major airports and find coupons for extra savings. Also, consider companies like RelayRides (which is nationwide, except for New York) and FlightCar (only available in Boston and San Francisco). These programs will rent out your car while you’re away, saving you the parking fees.

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