The holiday season is a notoriously expensive time to travel. People looking to go home or meet with family elsewhere for Thanksgiving should be prepared to pay premium prices for their travel and accommodations. However, there are ways to save on travel during this busy long weekend if you do some planning ahead.
Book Flights as Early as Possible
While you can sometimes score great deals on last-minute travel, this isn’t the case around Thanksgiving.
“Book flights well in advance,” said Sherry Arkfeld, author of the travel blog Digital Nomad and a Dog. “Thanksgiving is no time for waiting for last-minute deals. People will be traveling and flight costs go up the closer you get. The earlier you can book your flight, the cheaper the price will be.”
Save on Lodging by Pet or House Sitting
Hotels and rental properties tend to raise prices around Thanksgiving, but you can get around having to pay inflated rates by pet sitting or house sitting at your destination.
“You’ll need to plan for this in advance, but you can actually stay for free when you are a house or pet sitter,” Arkfeld said. “Think of all the people who are traveling for Thanksgiving. Many of them need someone to take care of their pets. Pet boarding is expensive, so getting a pet sitter in exchange for a free place to stay is a win-win.”
Arkfeld recommends the site TrustedHouseSitters.com for finding people in need of sitters.
“You’ll need to sign up in advance and have a background check to become eligible,” she said.
This is best suited for those traveling domestically, as work permits may be required if you are traveling abroad.
Alternatively, “if you’re visiting family, they may have friends who will be willing to let you stay in exchange for pet sitting without going through an agency.”
Watch for Price Drops After Booking
“Many people book their flights, cars and hotels and don’t give them another thought, but you really should watch for lowered prices,” Arkfeld said. “Many airlines will allow you to rebook to take advantage of price drops. You probably won’t get the cash back, but you’ll get credit for a future flight. If you’re staying in a hotel and have a refundable reservation, you’ll get to take advantage of the lower rate right away — and the same goes for rental cars.”
Fly on Thanksgiving Day
The cheapest day to fly around Thanksgiving is typically Thanksgiving Day itself.
“Flying on Thanksgiving Day is usually an economical option,” said Jackie Carbo, a travel blogger at BonVoyageJackie.com. “Not as many people want to fly on Thanksgiving Day, and I’ve found the airport is typically pretty calm and peaceful that day compared to the day before. The day before Thanksgiving is definitely the busiest and most expensive day to fly.”
Fly Back the Monday After
“It’s best to avoid flying on the Sunday after Thanksgiving,” said Dan Meyer, founder and director of Back&Pack, an experiential travel program. “Typically, you’ll find the best deals flying the Monday after Thanksgiving. Most travelers return home on Saturday or Sunday, so you’ll avoid that crush of travelers.”
Book Flight Tickets at the Airport
For certain airlines, you’ll get better deals when you book in person than if you book online, said travel blogger Rose Campau.
“Book your tickets in person at the airport if you’re traveling with a budget carrier like Frontier or Spirit,” she said. “This has saved me about $40 per person per leg in the past, which quickly adds up if you’re traveling with a larger family or are unable to take direct flights to your destination.”
“If you’re flexible with your travel dates, you can use sites like Kayak or Skyscanner to search for ‘flexible dates’ and see what days are the cheapest to fly,” said Fred Baker, senior travel editor at Travelness.com.
If you have job flexibility, it is typically cheapest to fly well in advance of Thanksgiving.
“The best idea is to travel the weekend before Thanksgiving or earlier since you will have the best fares,” said Brenda G. Mejia, blogger and editor at Traveleira.
Fly Early or Late in the Day
Travel blogger Kevin Mercier was able to save almost $200 on his Thanksgiving holiday trip last year by booking a flight that left at the crack of dawn.
“Flying so early in the morning isn’t always the most fun; but, since no one else wants to do it, it can help you save a lot of money,” he said. “My overall experience of flying at dawn wasn’t bad at all — security and food lines were much shorter, and I was able to find an outlet to charge my mobile phone and camera. Furthermore, early morning flights are also less likely to be delayed or canceled because bad weather tends to happen later in the day.”
Taking red-eye flights is another way to get good deals.
“Consider red eyes the day before [Thanksgiving],” said Samantha A. Pearsall, travel blogger at TheRamblingRenegade.com. “A lot of times we focus so much on needing to arrive or stay for a certain day, we forget we can still make it happen if we fly overnight. Make sure you do a thorough search of your bookend days and see if you can find a flight that leaves after 11 p.m. and arrives the following morning.”
Fly Into/Out of Smaller Airports
“Many travelers neglect to compare flights for multiple airports,” said Michael Belmont, owner of the online travel agency The Park Prodigy. “You should price out any remotely drivable airports from your home to ensure you’re getting the lowest deal. Larger city centers will most often have the cheapest flight itineraries, but smaller airports and airlines will sometimes offer deals.”
More From GOBankingRates