Last-Minute Thanksgiving Flights: Finding the Cheapest Deals Possible

You waited too long. Thanksgiving is just two weeks away and airline ticket prices are moving into the danger zone – from the truly expensive to “I won’t pay that!”

Go ahead, break your mother’s heart – or, follow these tips to find cheaper flights home for the holidays. There won’t be any deals but you can stay out of the worst of the danger zone so stop panicking, start reading, get moving. This is the last minute and there’s no time to waste.

Listen as air travel expert Rick Seaney shares last minute tips that really work:

American: Good News for Thanksgiving Flyers

1. Buy your tickets today

Forget the usual rule of shop on Tuesdays – seats are disappearing now and if you want to get to your destination at any price, you have to get your ticket.

Traditional low-cost airlines – as opposed to legacy carriers like American, Delta, United and US Airways – have historically tended to have cheaper last-minute prices, but this gap is narrowing year by year which is why you must compare airfare.

But read the rest of these tips before you ding your credit card.

2. Got Miles? Use ‘em

You can try using your frequent flyer miles; it’s one way to get the biggest bang for your buck, er, miles – but watch out for those last-minute steep redemption fees.

3. Fly on Thanksgiving Day

That’s right, fly on the holiday because no one wants to fly then – therefore, there will be some seats and they will be cheaper. A little cheaper. You might even luck out and get an empty middle seat next to you but there are no guarantees. In fact, there are no guarantees about a seat at all unless you act quickly. And as you shop, try to find an early flight so you’ll be home in plenty of time for turkey.

You’ve Got to Change Your Ticket – What it Will Cost

4. Fly the Hard Way

No easy, direct flights for you – and no getting to the airport at a reasonable hour, either – not if you want to save. Look for connecting flights which are usually cheaper (though not always which is why you must compare prices). Or fly the really hard way, on a red-eye or overnight flight. You’ll be tired, but you’ll get where you need to go with at least a little money in your pocket.

Find Cheap Flights for College Students

5. Drive Part of the Way

If you live in a small or mid-sized town it may be worth it to drive two or even three hours to a big hub airport. In recent years, airlines have cut capacity by slashing seats, dropping routes and cutting entire towns from schedules – and less competition drives prices up. Again, compare airfare to see if driving will save enough to justify the possibly radical inconvenience.

Spirit’s Eye-Popping New Bag Fees

6. Pack Like a Nudist

You won’t need many clothes – it’s a short holiday – so pack like a nudist, in a no-fee carry-on bag. If my wife and I can fit everything we need in two carry-on bags for a ten day trip to Europe, you can make it work for a short Thanksgiving jaunt.

Tip: Forget about packing toiletries – just use what’s available at the hotel or whatever friends and family have. If you must have your own stuff, buy it at your destination. Don’t worry about cost; a few small shampoos will be a heck of a lot cheaper than a $50 round-trip checked-bag fee.

Note: If you are flying Spirit, I reverse this advice – go ahead and check a bag. Spirit’s first checked-bag fee is actually cheaper than the airline’s fee for carry-ons.

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Published: November 8, 2012