Holiday Airfare and the Grandma Effect – And How to Save Money

This may not be strictly scientific but the Grandma Effect on holiday airfare is 100% common sense, and it’s pretty simple: When Grandma says, “Come for Thanksgiving” you go. [More on this in my latest column for ABC News]

Listen: Airfare expert Rick Seaney on saving money.

Grandma Effect and High Ticket Prices

For the airlines, it’s really simple, too.

  • Popular times to fly: Airlines know we want to fly during Thanksgiving and Christmas and other big holiday periods so they raise ticket prices – because we’ll pay.
  • Limited number of seats: The airlines have become extremely good at cutting capacity (or seats) in an effort to ensure that no plane travels with any empties. Their goal: aircraft filled to 100% of capacity and they get pretty close to that during the holidays.

Economists call this “demand outpacing supply” but the Grandma Effect will do. Now what can you do about it?

Best ways to save on holiday airfare

Tips for Cheaper Holiday Tickets

Here are a few of my favorite money-saving ideas but you can find more here.

  1. Buy now: It may be too late for this to work to best advantage for Thanksgiving flights but you can still find what I acall “the best of the bad deals” for the Decemer holiday but you must start shopping right now.
  2. Forget convenient flights: Nobody wants an inconvenient flight – whether that means flying with connections instead of a nonstop, or flying coast-to-coast on an overnight or red-eye flight – but if you can endure this, you will probably save money (and sometimes, a significant amount).
  3. Fly on the Big Day: Fly on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day or New Year’s Day – when you’ll usually find the very cheapest flights during the holidays. This has the added advantage of fewer crowds at the airport.
  4. Pack light: If you can travel with just a carry-on, you’ll save as much as $50 round-trip and get out of the airport quickly (and be first in line for a cab). If you must check a bag, watch it’s weight; fees for bags over 50 pounds can be steep (and this is a fee on top of the normal charge for a checked-bag).

How to pack everything in a carry-on

I always use a carry-on, and you can too – packing a carry-on can be surprisingly easy. And if you can’t fit that special conditioner in your hand luggage, you know Grandma will lend you hers.

More from Rick Seaney:

The Grandma Effect and Holiday Airfare

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Published: November 11, 2013