Tips on how to find cheap Thanksgiving flights and travel deals

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Hunting down cheap Thanksgiving airfare may seem elusive, but procrastinators can still gobble up savings.

Thanksgiving is the busiest travel season of the year, and it’s arguably the most challenging to score cheap airfare because the bulk of travelers are competing for cheap seats over a compact period that stretches from the Wednesday before Thanksgiving to the Monday after.

During the six-day Thanksgiving travel period, the number of long-distance trips (to and from a ­destination 50 miles or more) increases by 54 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Our tips for finding cheap Thanksgiving travel deals ensure you will have a memorable (and affordable) trip you can be thankful for. Still planning that perfect Turkey Day getaway? Here are 11 destinations where you can find great value this year.

Search for Thanksgiving flights

Procrastination pays

If you haven’t booked your plane ticket yet, it’s okay. Chances are you can still snag a great deal until mid-November, but don’t wait longer than that. As flights fill up, fares increase.

Pick the perfect dates

Pencil in your Turkey Day sneak away. (Image: Dafne Cholet, calendar* via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Avoiding flying the day before Thanksgiving or on the Sunday after can significantly save you money because many travelers fly on these days due to school and work holiday breaks. If you can leave earlier and fly home later, you may see your fare drop. If you aren’t eating until Thanksgiving evening, consider flying on Thanksgiving morning for added savings (flying on the holiday can bring significant savings). Have a range of departure and return dates so you have alternatives; leaving a day earlier or later may save you hundreds of dollars. Adding or subtracting a day could also lead to additional savings.

Timing is everything

Be flexible with the times of day you depart and return. Early morning and late night fights may be cheaper than flying mid-day. The fewer restrictions you impose on your travel plans, the better. Beware: you pay for what you get, so paying less for the last flight of the day doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting the best value. Late flights are more likely to be delayed or canceled, and if your flight is one of those, you’ll have paid for something you’re not necessarily getting. Instead, choose the first fight of the day. It’s the least likely to be delayed and lines will be fewer. Remember, Thanksgiving travel deals are only deals if you’re getting everything you bargained for.

Try a one-day vacay

If you’re short on cash and time, consider flying out first thing in the morning and returning on a late-night flight on Thanksgiving day.

Check for discounts

If at first you don’t succeed, search again. (Image: m anima, contemplating time travel via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

You might be able to get deeper discounts via affiliate programs like airline or hotel loyalty programs; travel rewards credit cards, or senior citizen and student discounts. When in doubt, ask the airline if they offer any discounts.

Check and check again

Flight prices can change; depending on the day and time you search for flights. Tuesday mornings tend to be a better time for booking because fare sales are often launched on Mondays and many airlines have matched these sale prices by Tuesday.

Don’t be a groupie

If you’re booking for more than one person, check flight prices as both a solo traveler and as multiple travelers. While you may not be able to get all the tickets for the same low price, it may be cheaper than buying the entire group’s flight in one transaction. While this option may mean your group’s seat assignments may be separated, pick window or aisle seats and then barter with the person stuck in the middle seat, who will likely be more than happy to trade.

Consider alternative airports

Fly into regional airports where there are many airline carrier and flight options. Pay attention to which airlines fly to your destination. Airports that are hubs for airlines often have better deals. For destinations that are served by multiple airports, like LondonNew York and South Florida, check each airport for the best rates. Searching all area airports (and even consider departing from one airport and returning to another) may rack up savings. Just make sure the costs associated with getting to and from the airport don’t add up to more than the amount you saved on the airfare. Don’t overlook smaller airports, which usually charge fewer taxes and other fees; these savings can reduce flight costs tremendously.  Sometimes, the cost can be much less, and if the airport is smaller, you’re almost guaranteed fewer delays, less lines and an easier journey through security. Thanksgiving travel deals can be found in unexpected places if you’re willing to look (and drive) for them.

Shop around

Check all airlines that fly to and from your departure and destination cities. You may find deep discounts on smaller, international, or lesser-known airlines. Just be sure you read the fine print before you purchase as low-cost carriers sometime tack on extra charges for things like seat assignments and carry-on luggage that can quickly close the gap in savings.

Don’t fly non-stop

Plane Ticket
Hunt for fabulous fares. (Image: hirotomo t, travel with iPhone via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

Sometimes adding a connection to your flight itinerary can add savings, but only do this if the savings are significant and you can fly through an airport with a good on-time record (and least likely to have weather-related delays).

Skip a flight

This trick is typically frowned upon by airlines, but it can mean a significant difference in price for savvy travelers. Search alternate routes that get you from your city to the destination. Some routes may fly to your desired destination en route to another city and cost a fraction of what it would cost if you flew direct. Booking “open jaw” tickets, a series of flights that fly to multiple cities, may give travelers the added bonus to see an extra place for the same price, or just get you to your destination without a layover.

Be alert

Sign up for flight alerts via apps that will track and alert you when prices for your favorite routes go down.

Get social

social media
Be sociable to score discounts. (Image: Jason Howie, Social Media apps via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Follow your favorite airlines on social media to be the first to know about flight sales and last-minute deals. Sales and promo codes are often posted on airline social media channels before they land in your email inbox or on the company’s website. Following airlines on Twitter and Facebook can clue you into deals you may have missed otherwise.

Get help

If, after searching online for the cheapest flights, the prices are still too high, consider calling the airline to see if they can have a better deal.

Buy foreign

Check prices on international airlines, if possible, as prices may be lower. A number of overseas airlines and new discount carriers are ramping up in North America and are vying hard for your business. Some will wow you will great deals. Others will have better amenities than domestic airlines, even in economy (hello, hot towels, free pillows and blankets, newspapers, and even — gasp — full cans of soda).

Sometimes two is better than one

Sometimes flying two different airlines and booking two one-way tickets is cheaper than booking one round-trip ticket on the same airline. Mixing and matching different flights on different airlines also has the added benefit of getting you better arrival and departure times. Search round-trip airfare and then search one-way fares. Then, search one-way fares on separate airlines to further compare prices. While airlines often charge more for one-way fares, this isn’t always the case.

Bundle up

If you need a hotel and/or rental car at your destination, consider booking an air and hotel, or air, hotel and car rental package. Buying in bulk may make your overall trip cheaper.

Act fast (then, sleep on it)

If you see a fare that seems too good to be true, read the fine print, and then purchase it. Then, check fares again the next day. If you find a cheaper fare, you can cancel your original fare without penalty. The U.S. Department of Transportation requires all air carriers to let consumers hold reservations for 24 hours without payment or let passengers cancel within 24 hours as long as the flight is more than seven days from the date of purchase.

Be rewarded

If, after trying our steps, flight prices are still too high, consider using reward mileage to book one-way or your entire trip.

Get a BOGO vacay

If your vacation days are in a use-it-or-lose-it status, consider taking more time off and adding a stopover to your Thanksgiving getaway. Keep in mind, stopovers are different from layovers. Layovers are multi-hour stops in between connecting flights. A stopover is 24 hours or more, allowing travelers the chance to explore a destination before journeying onward to another. The prospect of a dual-destination vacation may make it easier to contend with high airfare.

Take advantage of new routes

Get up, up and away this Thanksgiving. (Image: Mitch Barrie, going home via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

Air carriers are constantly adding new routes. Not only does the introduction of new routes mean new vacation destinations, but it also opens some great opportunities to snatch up cheap seats. Most airlines offer deep discounts on inaugural flights to celebrate new routes. Here are six new US flight routes to keep on your radar.

Read the fine print

Avoid fees that can bust your travel budget. Make sure you’ve calculated all the costs before you hit “book.” Depending on the airline, you could be charged for priority boarding, seat selection, carry-on luggage, checked luggage and more.

Helpful tips for your next flight

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Is TSA✓ Pre worth it?
16 rules of airtiquette: airport edition
How to handle flying when you’re hungover

What are your go-to Thanksgiving travel tips? Share with us in the comments.

Feature image: iStockphoto/stock_colors

Tips on how to find cheap Thanksgiving flights and travel deals was last modified: November 2nd, 2016 by Lauren Mack
Author: Lauren Mack (270 posts)

Lauren Mack has traveled to 40 countries on five continents, including Cuba, New Zealand, Peru and Tanzania. For many years, she called China, and then Taiwan, home. Countries at the beginning of the alphabet, particularly Antarctica, Argentina and Australia are on her travel bucket list. Lauren is a multimedia travel and food journalist and explorer based in New York City.