Thanksgiving Travel: Fly or Drive?
Each year, about 50 million Americans travel over the Thanksgiving holiday, making it the busiest travel season of the year. In 2017, an all-time high number of 28.5 million passengers will choose to fly between Friday, November 17, and Tuesday, November 28, according to industry trade organization Airlines for America.
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The Thanksgiving travel statistics may give some cost-conscious consumers pause as they consider their last-minute options for holiday transportation, since increased demand can drive up prices both for flights and at the gas pump for car travelers.
First, to the main question of whether you should fly or drive, you probably already know that driving is usually the cheaper option for Thanksgiving travel — especially given the fees associated with flying that add up: baggage fees, airport transportation, etc., plus the cost of airline tickets for the multiple passengers in your party.
Your primary concern may be cost, but also take into the account the amount of time you’ll spend driving — plus the amount of wear and tear on both you and your vehicle. To help you calculate your Thanksgiving travel costs and decide the best option for you, check out this online tool from BeFrugal, which gives you a quick glance at the costs associated with each method of transportation.
Don’t wait to buy your tickets. If you haven’t already purchased your tickets, now is the time to do it — every day that you wait closer to the holiday, the more likely you are to see spikes in ticket prices, so don’t delay on your purchase. Check prices at Skyscanner or Google Flights, and don’t forget to check discount airlines that may not appear on aggregator sites.
Fly on the less busy days. The Sunday after Thanksgiving is going to be the heaviest day for air traffic. Try to arrange your schedule so that you can fly out and back on the less traveled days — the aggregator sites can help you visualize your savings if you can fly a day or two earlier or later, says Matilda Geroulis, travel expert and cofounder of The Travel Sisters.
Use airline rewards — or not. While you might be able to redeem some of your accrued miles through your credit card or your frequent flier account to take a bite out of your flight cost, Sarah Hollenbeck, shopping and savings expert at Offers.com, warns that travelers may want to wait and use the rewards during a less costly travel season to maximize their value.
“Check the cash cost of the flight and look at the number of miles the airline wants you to redeem for that flight,” she says. “If you’re getting a value of less than one cent per point and if you can afford to just pay for the flight in cash, pay the money, earn some rewards on the flight and use your rewards for a flight that’s a better value down the line.”
Read the fine print. Particularly if you’ve opted to fly a discount airline, be sure to read through all the terms and conditions before booking your ticket. “There could be charges for baggage, carry-ons, the dimensions/weight of your baggage, snacks, meals and more,” says Grainne Kelly, travel expert and CEO of BubbleBum. “Be prepared ahead of time so you’re not hit with sticker shock at the airport. And try to just travel with a carry-on bag so you don’t have to pay for a checked bag.”
Maximize your savings at the pump. If you’re driving, take some time before your trip to analyze the credit cards that will help you earn the most cash back rewards while fueling up — on long-haul trips, those rewards can add up to significant savings.
Schedule a car check-up. You can maximize your fuel efficiency (and savings) by taking your car in for a check-up before your trip. Little things like making sure your tires are properly inflated, keeping your car tuned up, driving cautiously and with an even speed, and not hauling excess weight all contribute to reducing your fuel costs over the course of your Thanksgiving travel.
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Use GPS. Chances are, if you’re driving across the country during this busy travel time, you’ll encounter some traffic back-ups. Make sure to utilize GPS routing, either on your mobile device or a separate GPS unit to help you navigate around traffic jams and road construction.
Get the best deal on your hotel stay. If your Thanksgiving trip includes a night or two at a hotel, research ahead of time and see if there are any special rewards promotions, either through your credit card or the hotel chain’s loyalty program.
“For example, a program may give you an extra 5,000 points if you stay three nights, or it might double the points you earn if you stay on certain dates,” says Hollenbeck. “You generally have to sign up for these promos, but if you take the extra five minutes, you can multiply the points you earn on your stay.”