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    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    Holiday travel survival guide: Tips, hacks and how to avoid disaster

    If you're suffering from analysis paralysis when it comes to booking holiday travel, it's understandable. There will be record travel costs during this holiday season, plus looming recession fears - and so many places to choose among: Travelers who searched for November and December travel rose a whopping 60% year over year, according to Expedia Group's quarterly Traveler Insights Report released on Tuesday.

    More than half of Americans say they plan to escape for one or both of the holidays this year, with 70% of them planning to visit friends and family, said Hayley Berg, lead economist at travel booking app Hopper, in a statement. "As of today, nearly 25 million seats are expected to depart on flights from U.S. airports over the Thanksgiving travel week, from Sunday 11/20 to Sunday 11/27; a 6% increase in capacity compared to 2019."

    The good news is that it's not too late to snag prices that won't induce groans for travel from now to Thanksgiving, Christmas and up to New Year's. But you'll have to be fast, nimble and willing to change your booking habits. You'll also need to use all the tools at your disposal.

    - Book Your Holiday Flights, ASAP

    Thanksgiving domestic airfare has risen 10% from 2021 and is averaging $275 per round trip, while international airfare is averaging $828 round trip, up 16% from last year, according to fresh data pulled for Bloomberg by Hopper.

    If you haven't bought Thanksgiving tickets yet, you're a week late to snag decent fares. But it's better to do it now than later, as prices are expected to rise from $10 to $15 daily in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, Hopper says. You might also miss out if flights on your route sell out. Flexibility on your travel dates is crucial.

    Still, Hopper says Thanksgiving flight deals remain available. Running sample searches on Hopper turned up round-trip domestic flights from Washington to Charlotte at $190, round-trip from New York's JFK to Las Vegas at $244, or $215 from Boston to Orlando. If you're able to save the fare for 24 hours on an airline website, do this while you mull your plans, because it will otherwise go up. There's also the option to "Price Freeze" on Hopper until you're ready to pay.

    After November, it will predictably get pricier. This means you should book late-December flights ASAP, Google told Bloomberg. For domestic trips, prices are lowest from 20 to 88 days before departure, and we are in that dream window now. According to Hopper, international flights are showing deals for round-trip flights to San Juan, Puerto Rico, for $115, Madrid for $370, Ireland at $370 and London for $241.

    It's not just about prices. The longer you take, the less available your preferred flight options will be. If you're flexible, remember to use the Explore tool to spot flight deals from your departure airport. Google recommends leaving the dates open or selecting the budget or nonstop options to refine your results.

    - Avoid Holiday Hotspots

    Big cities are roaring back this holiday season. Travelers have missed the likes of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, for example, and Big Apple stays are the most in demand. Domestic hotspots include family-friendly destinations such as Disney World and big cities. Internationally, cities also loom large, along with beach destinations.

    Top October flight queries from the U.S., from Google:

    Domestic: Las Vegas, New York, Los Angeles, Orlando and Miami.

    International: London; Cancún, Mexico, Paris, Toronto and Mexico City.

    Most Booked Destinations for Christmas, from Hopper:

    Domestic: New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle, Orlando and San Diego.

    International: Mexico City, Manila, Guadalajara, Mexico, Lima, and San Salvador, El Salvador.

    - Know Your Airports' Outlook

    Here are the 10 airports that are predicted to be the busiest during Thanksgiving this year, and the top 10 with the highest disruption rates, based on the past summer and on Thanksgiving 2021.

    Airports in the U.S. are at their least busy on Wednesday evenings around 8 p.m., while Saturday noon is peak time, according to Google. Check ahead to determine your home airport's busyness during the week for these upcoming months, and build sufficient time around your flight to cope with security lines. (While queueing, envy folks who travel through Toronto Pearson International Airport; they can now pre-book spots in the security screening line).

    According to Hopper, the busiest travel dates for people flying for the Thanksgiving holiday are Sunday, Nov. 20, with an estimated 3.3 million passengers departing that day, and Sunday, Nov. 27, with a similar number of passengers.

    - Plan Around Traffic Trends

    Driving for Thanksgiving? Monday evening at 8 p.m. is the best time to hit the road this season, according to Google's latest data around traffic patterns out of 20 major U.S. cities, including Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon.

    The worst time to get on the road is on Tuesday or Wednesday at 4 p.m. or 5 p.m., and the heaviest weekend traffic comes on Saturday and Sunday at 4 p.m.

    - Hotel Deals May Still Appear

    While average hotel costs are up this year compared to 2021, some accommodation prices show a dip compared to 2022, particularly as more travelers flock back to big cities for the holiday season. How you define a deal is relative: The average hotel booking price is down 24% in Denver, at $407, for example, and is at $319 in Las Vegas, a 17% drop from 2021.

    Run a general search on Google to find the hotel you need - enter, say, "dog friendly hotels in San Diego under $200 with a pool." Click on the map showing you the results. Once you've chosen a property, tap on the entry and go to "prices" to compare rates for it across the web.

    The more flexible you can be regarding time and location, the better you can find destinations that aren't sticking it to travelers with over-the-top prices this season.

    You may be better off waiting until the last minute to find the best hotel deals; hotels often release lower prices in the days immediately preceding the holiday, according to Hopper. In 2021, Thanksgiving Day travelers reported saving 28% off hotel stays for same-day check-ins. If you mark as favorite a hotel on the app, an alert will pop up when there's a deal to be had.

    Be sure to check in with your favorite hotel brands or new properties in destinations that interest you in order to see if they're running Black Friday specials or holiday season sales. ClubMed just launched one across its properties, as did the newly opened Waldorf Astoria in Cancún and Lotte New York Palace, among others.

    - Renting a Car? Book It With Airfare

    Car rentals are more reasonable than last year, but they'll still cost you: a national average $62 per day during the Thanksgiving season and $53 per day during Christmastime, Hopper says. Rates are 22.5% lower than they were in 2021, but some markets remain high, including Austin, where it could cost $180 per day.

    Booking at the last minute will get you the best deals this year, Hopper says, but a surge in revenge travel this season means you don't want to gamble on availability. Your best bet is to pre-book alongside your flights.

    - Reminders for a Better Trip

    Don't forget travel insurance, as we're not yet out of worker shortage woes. Hopper offers a "flight disruption guarantee" that lets you rebook right away with any carrier through the app.

    Booking the first flight out on a given day usually spares you from potential flying hassles, from crowds to delayed planes.

    If you're a road tripper, use Google Maps' eco-friendly routing, which will show the most energy-efficient route to your destination. You can also find the nearest and cheapest gas stations on the way.

    Don't throw away our earlier travel tips. You'll need all the tools to make it through this holiday travel season.