Traveling during the holidays is often tremendously stressful. With prices at all-time highs, busy travel routes and pressures to make it to your destination by a certain time, it’s a wonder people even try. But people do, because there’s nothing like going home for the holidays. That’s why it’s so important to find ways to battle the inevitable holiday travel prices.
Flight prices will increase during Thanksgiving, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find cheap flights. Here are a few tips to help you find last-minute Thanksgiving travel deals.
Sign Up for Fare Alerts
Get proactive about finding cheap flights by signing up for fare alerts with sites or travel apps like AirfareWatchdog, Hitlist and more. Gillian Morris, CEO and co-founder of Hitlist, said to monitor prices and book as soon as they drop.
“People say there’s an optimal time to book flights,” said Morris, “but the truth is that flight prices change with the market, so that optimal time can’t be predicted. Even the most sophisticated price prediction algorithms are wrong close to 40 percent of the time, which means you are almost as likely to lose money as save money by buying at a set time like three weeks before travel.”
No matter which website you book with, make sure you strike while the iron is hot. Airline ticket prices change rapidly, so sleeping on them could mean losing a great deal.
Search Multiple Sites and Clear Your Cookies
If you’re ready to buy tickets, and you’re comparing airline prices, the best thing you can do is clear your cookies — and no, not the cookies on your Thanksgiving plate.
When comparing flight prices, clearing the cookies in your browser, or using a different browser altogether, can help you find the cheapest flights. Cheryl Rosner, co-founder and CEO of Stayful, a site that helps you book boutique hotel stays, discovered this trick on accident.
Rosner found an economy ticket for $500 and a first class ticket for $1400, then became distracted and walked away. She went back to her computer later, using a new browser, and found a first class ticket for only $458. But upon logging back in to the site, saw the higher price again. So she switched browsers yet again, found the $458 first class ticket and booked it.
It’s amazing what you can do by simply tricking the travel sites into thinking you’re a new visitor. That’s what clearing your browser cookies can do. Rosner was able to buy first class tickets for the price of economy.
Don’t Fly the Wednesday Before or the Sunday After Thanksgiving
No matter what you do, don’t even think about flying out the Wednesday before or the Sunday after Thanksgiving. While they might be the most convenient travel days, that also makes them the most expensive.
Jason Steele, credit card expert for CompareCards.com, said, “Consider flying on the less crowded days, such as Thanksgiving morning itself. Or, you could leave early and return on the Friday after Thanksgiving, or stay until later in the week.”
If you can, try flying on Thanksgiving Day itself and flying back the Monday after Thanksgiving. Switching your schedule around just a little could mean a world of savings.
Book With Two Different Airlines
You would think you can get cheap flights by being loyal to one airline, but that isn’t always the case. According to Jeff Klee, CEO of flight booking search engine CheapAir, you’d be better off booking with two different airlines for a round trip. Just keep baggage fees in mind when booking.
“Book with two different airlines to keep costs in check,” said Klee. “For example, a [December] weekend getaway for two to Las Vegas from Los Angeles offers significant savings if you mix and match air carriers. Flying United on your outbound flight and Spirit Airlines on the return will cost $203 a ticket, as opposed to $233 for flying United round trip. That’s a savings of $30 per ticket.”
Splitting up your fare could not only save you money, it could also make it easier to use your rewards points. “Try splitting up the outbound and the return,” said Steele. “Many people come up empty after searching for a round-trip flight, but that is not necessary. You can book separate one ways using points and miles from different programs, or pay cash one-way and book an award ticket the other way.”
Don’t Lose Money With a Low-Cost Airline
Besides trying to save money during Thanksgiving travel, it’s also important to not let your trip cost more through shortsighted savings. The time this is most likely to happen is when you’re booking a cheap flight through a budget airline. Klee explained how you can get nickel-and-dimed if you’re not paying enough attention to additional fees, like carry-on and checked baggage fees.
“When you choose to book your flights with one of the low cost airlines, it literally pays to read the fine print,” Klee said. “Remember, they are low cost for a reason — you’re just paying for your seat.”
Klee used Spirit Airlines as an example: When buying tickets online, you could pay $35 for a carry-on bag, $30 for a checked bag and up to $50 for a seat.
“If you decide at the last minute to check a bag, you’ll pay $50 at the airport,” Klee said. “And woe to the customer who thinks he or she can sneak a slightly over-sized carry-on bag onto the plane. If you don’t meet the strict size specifications at the gate, you’ll have to check that bag anyway. And with Spirit, it’ll cost you a not-so-cheap $100.”
Just make sure you fully understand the policies and fees before you book your flight, especially with a low-cost carrier. If you’re prepared, these carriers can really be worth it; if you’re not, it could cost you.
Get Rewards for Next Year
One of the most popular ways to save money on flights is to use rewards — but for many, it might be too late to do so this year. Jason Steele talked about the importance of booking early for Thanksgiving next year if you want to use miles.
“Even if you can’t use your points and miles to book an award ticket this year, learn from the experience and book Thanksgiving 2016 as soon as possible,” said Steele. “Most airlines will open up their flights to ticketing 11 months in advance, so you could book your Thanksgiving 2016 flights around Christmas.”
If you’re able to obtain a ticket using rewards, compare the ticket cost with the amount of miles used, as that is your real savings.
“Programs with no blackout dates are the ones with fixed value miles,” explained Steele, “such as Capital One Venture, Barclaycard Arrival Plus and Discover it Miles. All of their miles are worth one cent each as statement credits towards travel rewards.”
Enjoy Your Thanksgiving
As you search for last-minute Thanksgiving travel deals and cheap flights, keep in mind that the holiday is about so much more than money.
There’s no question that flight price gouging over the holidays is frustrating, but that doesn’t mean you have to let it ruin your trip. Use these tips to your advantage, and you should be able to obtain cheap flights so you can focus on what’s really important: the joy of the holiday and spending it with those you love.
This article originally appeared on GoBankingRates.
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