You remember this every Wednesday before Thanksgiving — standing in ridiculously long lines at airport security, still seething over the fact that you paid twice what the airfare is really worth to go home to see your parents. Don't hate me, but I actually booked my Thanksgiving travel in June. I found affordable hotel and airfare rates — and now don't have the stress of planning late in the game. Airlines will begin to amp up airfares for Thanksgiving, so do yourself a favor and start booking those flights and hotels now.
If you can play around with your work and school vacation schedules, think about flexible travel dates. I strongly recommend traveling to your destination the Monday or Tuesday prior to Thanksgiving and returning home either the Saturday or Monday afterward, so you aren't among the throngs fighting to get home at the end of the long weekend. Last year, I flew home on the Friday after Thanksgiving. The flights were gloriously empty, as everyone else was doing Black Friday shopping.
If you really want to get away around Christmas and New Year's, join the club. Everyone wants to travel during the holidays. Don't limit yourself to settling for whatever available travel your agent finds at the last minute. Do some planning early, so you can go where you really want to be. You'll still be traveling during a very busy period, and you'll wait in long lines and stay at hotels that are booked to capacity, but at least you can choose the hotel you want to be at and the type of room accommodation you really want.
The same is true of flights. You don't need to settle for a red-eye or a 6 a.m. flight if you're not a morning person — if you make the time to plan ahead.
Most consumers experience a little bit of sticker shock when they look at holiday travel rates. It's a popular time of year! You want to be in a warm destination when it's cold back home, or you want to be at one of the best ski resorts because you love to ski, and you're going to pay a premium for that privilege. However, if you anticipate the costs, you can start saving and begin to cut corners on your other discretionary spending, so it's not a complete shock when your credit card bill arrives in January.
If you like to travel in a larger group, give your friends and family ample opportunity to think about whether they want to join you. Let them figure out if they can afford the trip before they have to book. They may share great ideas for places to go or ideas about where to stay — renting a vacation home is a trend right now — and you'll have much more time to plan and do research when you are thinking about it in September versus late November.
Some companies are already offering early-booking incentives for the holidays. They want to know they are going to sell out their hotels or tours sooner rather than later, so they are happy to provide an extra discount or some type of value-added amenity because you booked early. Many people don't know this, but here's how the revenue managers at hotels work: As you get closer to the high-demand holidays, the hotel starts to see it is getting booked up, so they raise the rates of the hotel rooms to meet greater demand. Someone who books a week before traveling might actually be paying twice the amount of the person who booked three months previously — for the exact same kind of room.
If you're dreaming about spending the week between Christmas and New Year's on a warm, sunny beach or by a roaring ski lodge fireplace, take a few hours now to start planning. As the holidays near and you are focused on getting people checked off your Christmas shopping list, you won't stress about the holiday getaway, too.
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