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How to Save Time and Money on Thanksgiving Travel in 2019

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
January 12, 2022
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Andrii Biletskyi | Dreamstime.com
From the best time to purchase airline tickets to the best days to take to the skies (or the highway), we’ve got start-today tips you’ll be thankful for.

If you’re one of the more than 54 million Americans who are predicted to be traveling over the Thanksgiving 2019 holiday, you already know your journey won’t be as easy as “over the river and through the woods.” But even with long lines at airport security and bumper-to-bumper traffic on major thoroughfares looming ahead, there are a number of data-driven tips that can help you search out deals, avoid the worst crowds, and arrive at your holiday destination with your appetite and enthusiasm intact.

Get started soon

The good news is it’s not too late to save time and money on Thanksgiving travel. In fact, now through the end of October is the ideal window to research flights. To take some of the uncertainty out of the process, AAA recommends that you consider consulting a travel agent and purchasing trip insurance. If you’re planning to fly for the holiday, the folks at the global travel search engine Skyscanner.com suggest that you set up price alerts now (as in, stop reading this for a second and set up price alerts on your preferred flight booking app), and that you consider price alerts for a range of dates, as prices can be significantly higher or lower as one gets closer to Turkey Day itself. (See “How to Choose the Best Travel Days,” below.)

The best time to buy airline tickets

“Holiday travelers should make their plans now and begin booking their flights for Thanksgiving and Christmas for the best deals and availability,” says Paula Twidale, vice president, AAA Travel. The ideal window for getting reasonable prices (under $500 round-trip for domestic flights, according to AAA) is between 30 and 60 days prior to Thanksgiving. A quick look at the calendar will alert you that the time is literally now: Book by October 27. (AAA makes its predictions and recommendations based on an analysis of flight booking data for domestic US travel for Thanksgiving from 2016 to 2018.)

It bears mentioning, however, that AAA predicts that it is possible to nab airfares averaging $482 by waiting until the last minute (in this case, purchasing your ticket seven to 13 days before Thanksgiving, or November 11 to 17). But purchasing at the last minute will always be a game of chance, so be forewarned. “Procrastinating travelers may be able to find last-minute deals on flights close to the holidays, as airlines look to fill their last few remaining seats, but flight availability for these peak travel weeks will be very limited by that time,” says Twidale.

How to choose the best travel days

Which days you choose to fly will have a major impact on your airfare and your airport experience.

Traditionally, the Monday before Thanksgiving is the best day to fly for both airfare (averaging under $500 round-trip this year, according to AAA) and for lighter crowds than later that week. AAA notes that the Sunday before Thanksgiving is the best day for travelers who seek the lightest possible crowds and don’t care about spending a bit more.

The biggest airfare savings will be found by flying on Thanksgiving day itself, averaging around $450 round-trip. Those who have flown on major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas often enjoy not only the savings but also the elbow room and festive vibe.

The busiest and priciest days to fly are, of course, the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

Over the years, research has consistently suggested that if you can delay your return flight until the Monday after Thanksgiving, you’ll save money and airport hassle. (That strategy, of course, is often most practical for retirees or adults traveling without school-age kids.)

If you’ve ever wondered how many of your fellow Thanksgiving travelers share your best-day-to-fly preferences, Skyscanner.com recently crunched the numbers on domestic Thanksgiving bookings over the past few years and reports that nearly 60 percent of Americans prefer to fly midweek, departing on the Tuesday or Wednesday before Thanksgiving and returning between Friday and Sunday – that certainly explains the massive airport crowds. Conversely, only 20 percent fly on Thanksgiving itself, and only 10 percent are “week-long travelers” who leave for their Thanksgiving destination on the Saturday or Sunday before the holiday.

Secrets to a successful Thanksgiving road trip

When it comes to hitting the road for the holiday, the same days that are best – and worst – for flying apply to driving as well. If you can pack up the car and roll out before the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and return the Monday after, you’ll have a relatively relaxing drive. If, like so many of domestic travelers, you can’t avoid driving on Tuesday or Wednesday and returning Saturday or Sunday, consider driving at night or in the very early morning – and let your relatives know that you may need a catnap while they’re watching the Lions' game.

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Travel Tips

What Happens If You Don’t Put Your Phone on Airplane Mode on A Flight?

It’s not that long ago that airlines stopped telling passengers to keep their mobile phones, tablets, e-readers and other devices turned off throughout the flight. Remember the time in 2011 when Alec Baldwin was kicked off an American Airlines plane after becoming disruptive when a flight attendant told him to stop playing Words with Friends? Airlines take this stuff seriously for a reason.Why do we have to put our phones on flight mode? We’re asked to turn our devices off or to flight mode because of electromagnetic interference from phones, tablets, e-readers, electronic headsets, and more. Since some planes were built before these became a thing, it took a while for the industry to make sure it was entirely safe to use them. These days, you’ll even see iPads and other tablets in the flight deck, which pilots use to store paperwork instead of lugging around big bags with actual paper in. You’ll see flight attendants using tablets and big phones too, either instead of or in addition to those reams and reams of dot-matrix printed paperwork. All those devices have been tested extensively to make sure there’s no interference. But that hasn’t always been the case! In fact, back in 2011, some parts within specific models of flight deck screen on certain Boeing 737 aircraft proved to be susceptible to interference. How’d we find out that specific combination of planes and monitors — and fix it? During the rigorous testing process to enable airlines to offer inflight internet, that’s how. Part of that testing process is creating enough electromagnetic interference to represent an entire cabin full of devices of a variety of sizes, including some that are malfunctioning. Pretty much every airliner-equipment combo operated by a major international airline has now been tested. What happens if I don't put my phone on airplane mode? For years, safety regulators, airlines, aircraft manufacturers and everyone else in the industry has known that there are dozens of devices left out of airplane mode on every flight. In a way, the fact that planes haven’t fallen out of the sky willy-nilly because someone left their Kindle on is the best demonstration that, for the most part, most devices don’t affect most planes. But most isn’t good enough for aviation. Some folks don’t know that their Kindle even has 3G, or that the Bluetooth on their watch/headphones/other device counts as needing to be in airplane mode. Some forget that they’ve packed one of those devices in the overhead bin. Some even blatantly ignore the rules, assuming that their vital email on that BlackBerry isn’t going to make their plane start to plummet. And it probably isn’t. Here’s the thing: aviation doesn’t work on probablys. One of the reasons why aviation is safer than getting in your car, crossing the street, or even just staying at home (more people are casualties of toilet-related incidents than aviation accidents!) is that airlines and their regulators work with an abundance of caution.

Travel Tips

9 TSA Rules You Might Be Breaking

With the Transportation Security Administration’s restrictions around the boarding process constantly shifting (see: those Star Wars-themed Coca-Cola bottles that had Disney-goers in an uproar), even the most jaded frequent flier can be caught unaware. Here are some scenarios you should have on your radar before your next departure. 1. You went on a spice-buying spree and packed your finds in your carry-on For the past year, the TSA has required additional screening for any powder-based substances greater than 350 ml (or about how much would fit in a soda can). They don’t have to be packed in your checked luggage, but you will need to allow time for additional screening—and depending on how savvy your airport staff is, that could take a while. A 16-ounce bag of sea salt, for example, proved problematic for one of our writers returning from Sicily, triggering the scanners and stumping the agents at every port of call. To alleviate the hassle, pull them out with your electronics at security or consider stashing them in your checked baggage. 2. You stopped at the dispensary to refill your prescription, and now you’re carrying too much medical marijuana Speaking of stashes: Medical marijuana is legal in 33 states, plus D.C., Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands, but that doesn’t mean it’s cleared to fly cross-country. Because the plant remains illegal under federal law, only FDA-approved goods or those that contain no more than 0.3% THC when weighed dry are allowed, either in carry-on or checked bags. (The rules apply to some CBD products as well, so tread carefully.) Though the TSA screens for security, not specifically for drugs, if an officer sees that you’re holding, they’ll call in the authorities. To avoid the issue altogether, some airports have installed cannabis disposal bins – look for them in locations like Las Vegas, Toronto, and Aspen, Colorado. 3. Your liquids are out of sight, out of mind Sure, you remembered to take out your toiletries and empty your water bottle, but what about your roll-on deodorant, heating pad, or glow sticks? The former and the latter are fine in your carry-on as long as they’re less than 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters, but gel-based items like heating pads and candles have to go in your checked bags. (As with any liquids, gel ice packs are fine as long as they’re completely frozen – if they’re at all melted or slushy, they have to meet the 3-1-1 requirement, unless they’re medically necessary.) On the off chance you’re transporting a Magic 8 ball, stick with your checked baggage there too. As the TSA’s reference page puts it, “For Carry-on bags: We asked the Magic 8 Ball and it told us…Outlook not so good! For Checked bags: We asked the Magic 8 Ball and it told us…It is certain!” 4. You snapped a picture of something you shouldn’t have Shooting photo or video isn’t completely verboten at security checkpoints, but the regulations around it are pretty hazy. The TSA says that you’re fine as long as you don’t reveal sensitive information, shoot equipment monitors that aren’t in public view, or interfere with the screening process in any way—including but “not limited to holding a recording device up to the face of a TSA officer so that the officer is unable to see or move, refusing to assume the proper stance during screening, blocking the movement of others through the checkpoint or refusing to submit a recording device for screening.” It’s easy to see how an innocent action could be interpreted as interference, so you’re probably better off skipping the snapshots, just to be on the safe side. 5. You’ve lost a loved one, and you’re traveling with their ashes Going “Code Grandma,” or simply taking a loved one to their final resting place? Some airlines might ban cremated remains from checked bags, but somewhat shockingly, the TSA as a whole has no issue with passengers bringing cremated remains on board, as long as they’re transported in a vessel that allows the scanners to see what’s inside. (Wood and plastic are fine, metals like tin or stainless steel, not so much.) If the officers can’t make out what’s in the container, it won’t be allowed. Per the site, “Out of respect for the deceased, TSA officers will not open a container, even if requested by the passenger.” 6. You’re heading for the big game, or Comic-Con, or a killer Halloween party – and you’ve dressed up to get in the mood Though it’s not strictly prohibited, dressing in costume, painting your face, or altering your appearance in any significant fashion could result in additional screening. TSA agents need to be able to identify you to wave you through the checkpoints, so save the makeup or the mask for a quick restroom change after you’ve cleared security or once you’ve landed at your destination. 7. Your smart luggage was grabbed for the dreaded gate check, and you forgot to pop out the battery Most rechargeable and non-rechargeable batteries – lithium, cell phone, laptop, and external batteries, plus power banks and portable rechargers – are fine in the cabin, but they become a problem when they’re stored under the plane. To avoid an unpleasant surprise, check the Federal Aviation Administration’s guidelines before you head for the airport. 8. You won a goldfish at the carnival, and you want to take him home It should go without saying, but live fish should not be relegated to the cargo hold. As one of few exceptions to the notorious 3-1-1 rule, live fish in water – no matter the amount – can go in your carry-on, as long as they’re in a transparent container and pass muster with the TSA officer. 9. You let the holiday spirit take over Air travel during the holiday season is bad enough – don’t make it any harder than it has to be. Your carefully wrapped gifts can trigger an alarm, so use bags and boxes instead of wrapping paper and tape whenever possible. Even the most minor trinkets can cause trouble: Snow globes bigger than a tennis ball likely violate the 3-1-1 liquids rule, and Christmas crackers aren’t allowed at all, either in the cabin or in the cargo hold. Foodwise, fruitcake is fine, but if you’re smuggling gravy across state lines, be sure to mix it with your mashed potatoes if you don’t want it confiscated by security – a lesson model, presenter and cookbook author Chrissy Teigen learned on the fly this summer.

Travel Tips

8 Common Travel Scams (and How to Avoid Them)

Even experienced travelers can become victims of crooks that prey on tourists – and we’re not just talking about pickpockets. Perpetrators use a number of ploys to dupe tourists. The good news? There are steps you can take to avoid these eight common travel scams and swindles. Fake booking websites Fraud can occur before you even pack your bags. Fake travel reservation websites are common culprits. In fact, a whopping 15 million online hotel reservations are made on bogus third-party sites every year, the American Hotel & Lodging Association reports. How to avoid it: The easiest way to protect yourself is by going to the official website of the hotel, airline, or rental car agency to book reservations. If you’re considering using a third-party booking website, though, look up the business on the Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any complaints lodged against the company for fraud. Also, make sure the booking site’s URL starts with https:// – this ensures it’s a secure website. The broken taxi meter Sadly, some taxi drivers take advantage of tourists by telling them that their meter is broken and then charge them significantly more money than the fare should have cost. How to avoid it: If a taxi driver refuses to turn on the meter, get out and opt for another driver. Don’t have another taxi to choose from? Negotiate the rate ahead of time. Phony Wi-Fi hotspots Connecting your computer, smartphone, or other electric device to an unsecured Wi-Fi network can put your personal data at risk, since the perpetrator can gain access to what’s on your device, including sensitive information like credit card account numbers. How to avoid it: Instead of using public Wi-Fi, create a mobile hotspot from your smartphone. This entails sharing your phone’s mobile data connection wirelessly with the other device you’re using. If you don’t have a large or unlimited data plan, though, creating a mobile hotspot may not be a financially feasible option. If you must use a public Wi-Fi connection, use a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, which is “a private network that only you can access, hiding your important data from potential hackers,” says Hailey Benton of Global Travel Academy. Your hotel accommodation or attraction is "closed" We’re not trying to give taxi drivers a bad rap – most cabdrivers are honest providers – but some drivers mislead travelers by telling them that their desired hotel or attraction is closed, even though it’s open. The driver will then try to pressure you to stay at a different hotel or visit a different attraction, which offers the driver a kickback for bringing the company business. How to avoid it: This one is pretty simple: if a cabbie tells you that your hotel or attraction is closed, call directly to see whether it’s truly open or closed. Car trouble Renting a car? You need to have your guard up. A fraudster may tell you to pull over because there’s a problem with your vehicle, like a broken taillight or a flat tire. Instead of inspecting your car, the person robs you at gun- or knife-point. How to avoid it: Don’t pull over. If there’s a genuine problem, you’ll likely hear a noise or see an emergency light pop on, at which point you should find a repair shop. The bag slash A purse may seem like a good place to store cash and other valuables. However, crooks target tourists by riding on a bicycle past the person while slicing the strap of a bag, then pedaling away with its contents. How to avoid it: Though some people think they look silly, storing your valuables – money, passport, and credit cards – in a money belt that you tuck into your pants is the safest way to stroll the streets. The shell game It’s an age-old scam: a game operator on the street places a ball under one of three shells or cups, shuffles them around, and you place a bet on where you think the ball is. The trick? Associates acting as tourists guess correctly, leading you to think you can win. The perpetrator has removed the ball using sleight of hand, or you win and the person pays you with counterfeit money. How to avoid it: Don’t play. Don’t even stop to watch – you could get pickpocketed by a conspirator while you’re distracted by the game. The souvenir switcheroo You stop at a stall to buy a keepsake. You find the item you want to purchase and pay the vendor, who then goes to wrap up your purchase. When you get home, though, you unwrap your souvenir to discover it’s not the item you purchased – it’s actually a cheaper trinket. How to avoid it: Don’t buy souvenirs on the street. Instead, go to a brick-and-mortar store that can be held accountable.

Travel Tips

6 Things to Know Before Buying a Timeshare

The US timeshare industry’s sales volume hit a whopping $10.2 billion last year, up 7% from 2017, according to the annual State of the Vacation Timeshare Industry report by the American Resort Development Association (ARDA). That marks nine consecutive years of growth. However, buying a timeshare isn’t right for everyone. Here are six things you need to know before purchasing one. 1. How timeshares work Owning a timeshare can be a great way to have access to a vacation property that you love without having to shoulder the high costs of owning your own home, like property taxes and mortgage payments. Traditionally, timeshare buyers pay a lump sum of money upfront, which allows them use of a specific unit at the same time every year. Some timeshare units are located at big-name hotels or resorts, while others are located at off-site communities. A one-week interval is most common – meaning there might be 52 people who share ownership of a property – but the time frame can be shorter or longer depending on the contract. Some timeshares, though, offer “flexible” or “floating” weeks that allow owners to choose when they want to stay at the property (subject to availability) from year to year. 2. Timeshare presentations often use grueling, high-pressure sales tactics Timeshares are frequently sold during on-site presentations, and to attract prospective buyers, many timeshare companies will offering attendees freebies like dinner vouchers or discounted vacations. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal, right? Not exactly. These presentations are led by trained salespeople who know precisely what to say to persuade people to buy a timeshare, which is why many consumer advocates recommend people take time to mull things over – and do some comparison shopping to see if they’re getting a good deal – before deciding whether to purchase a timeshare. Pro tip: if you’re the type of person who is especially susceptible to high-pressure sales tactics, you may want to avoid timeshare presentations altogether. 3. Watch out for high maintenance fees Most timeshares come with annual maintenance fees to pay for expenses like landscaping, amenities upkeep, and business costs (like recordkeeping, scheduling, or staffing), and these fees can add up. According to the ARDA, timeshare maintenance fees cost, on average, $1,000 a year. Unfortunately, maintenance fees can increase over time. Thus, it pays to look a timeshare community’s maintenance fee history, and find out whether any large expenses (e.g., construction of a new fitness center) are coming up, before purchasing a timeshare unit. 4. Timeshares tend to depreciate… Though timeshares enable buyers to freeze their future vacation costs, they tend to depreciate in value. Unlike buying a vacation home, which can increase in value as home prices increase, buying a timeshare doesn’t tend to yield a great return on investment. Why? Because timeshare owners face the uphill battle of persuading someone to pay more for a used unit, when they have the option to buy a brand-new timeshare directly from a resort or vacation club – making it challenging for owners to make a profit 5. …but they’re not always money traps Typically, timeshare owners have the right to rent out their week(s) through exchange programs, such as Resort Condominiums International (RCI), Interval International (II), and Trading Places International. This gives owners the opportunity to travel to cities around the world and stay at rental properties that may cost significantly less than standard hotel rooms or resort rates. The caveat? Most timeshare exchange programs charge an annual subscription fee (generally between $100 and $300), and some charge an additional fee for each transaction that can vary depending on the length of stay, unit size, and time of purchase. 6. Timeshare scams run rampant The timeshare industry has been a target for fraudsters since it was born in the 1970s. Because scam artists have developed a number of deceptive practices to dupe consumers, it’s important to look out for red flags. One common scheme is where a company calls to offer you an exceptionally low price on a timeshare if you book today; the only thing you have to do is pay a large upfront fee of say, $15,000 – except you learn later that no timeshare exists. There are also resale scammers who target timeshare owners during tough economic times, promising that they have a buyer lined up who is ready to make them an exceptional offer in order to get the owner to send them money and then they disappear. Your best form of protection is to stay vigilant. If a timeshare company contacts you, do your homework to make sure the business is legitimate. Contact local consumer protection agencies in the state where the company is located, as well as the Better Business Bureau (BBB), to see if there are any existing complaints about the organization. The bottom line Buying a timeshare is a good idea for some people, but it’s a bad idea for others. By understanding the pros and cons of owning a timeshare, you’ll be able to make a more informed decision for your travel needs.