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Finding the Best Holiday Airfare and Hotel Deals

Just about everyone knows that holiday airfares vary tremendously, depending on which specific days you want to fly. And you also know that if you wait too long, you find nothing left in airlines’ seat inventories except the highest-price tickets. The upshot is that you should consider locking in your holiday air reservations early. And, fortunately, you have some good sources of information.

CheapAir is the first website out of the gate this year with a holiday-airfare travel calendar. The initial posting covers the Thanksgiving and year-end holiday periods.

  • Thanksgiving: The best days to travel will be November 25, 26, 28 (Thanksgiving Day), and 29, plus December 3. The worst will be December 1.
  • Year-End: The best travel days will be December 19, 23, 24, 25, 26, and 31, plus January 1 and 7. The worst days will be December 20 and 29 and January 5.

Priceline posts a similar calendar every year. Normally it doesn’t go online until late October, but in response to a request, Priceline’s Senior Travel Analyst Brian Ek has already developed some preliminary figures:

  • Thanksgiving: The best days to travel will be November 25 and 28 and December 3, 4, 5, and 6. The worst days will be November 27 and December 1.
  • Year-End: The best days to travel will be December 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, and 25, and January 1. Intermediate days will be December 23, 24, 27, and 30. The worst days will be December 21, 22, 28, and 29.

For years, travel on the main holiday days has always been slow—that’s when most folks want to be where they’re going—and also in those “sandwich” days between a major holiday and an adjacent weekend. I remember, long ago, flying on a 747 from New York to San Francisco on the Friday after Thanksgiving with only four passengers. And I also remember a New Year’s Day 747 trip on TWA (yes, it was a while back) from London to Los Angeles with about 60 passengers in a plane that held 460.

Hotel accommodations, of course, are a different story. Resort-area hotel rates tend to remain high during the entire Thanksgiving weekend and the two-week Christmas–New Year’s period. The same goes for vacation rentals. Accommodations bargains, if any, will be in big-city business-oriented hotels.

As always, you can never outguess the timing of last-minute sales. All you can do is cast as wide a net as you can for airfare information, sign up for a bunch of deal alerts, and be prepared to act quickly once you spot a good deal that fits your plans.

If you wait until shortly before the holiday period, be prepared to scratch around for anything at less than top dollar. On routes where airlines quickly run out of cheap seats and hotels say they’re fully booked, keep in mind that big wholesale tour operators often have reserved inventories of rooms and tour-basing airfares even after airlines and hotels say they have nothing left but full-fare economy or that they’re full. Also, if fares to the most popular spots and hotels are either unavailable or expensive, consider an off-the-beaten-path destination.

And wherever and whenever you go, remember that air traffic will be heavy and weather in much of the northern U.S. and Canada could be lousy. That means allowing extra time for anything—and, especially, giving yourself an extra hour or two at the hub anytime you have to use connecting flights.

Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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