5 Reasons It's Just About Too Late to Book Holiday Travel

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- You're already up to your elbows in pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin beers, pop-up costume shops and Candy Corn Oreos. Exactly how much longer do you think you'll have to buy those Thanksgiving or Christmas airline tickets for less than the price of your first car?

If you're even entertaining the idea of flying somewhere for Thanksgiving dinner, you're out of time to procrastinate. According to Rick Seaney, analyst and CEO for travel website FareCompare, roughly two months out is the best time to shop for both holiday airfares and desired flight times. As the days pass, it's going to get a lot tougher to find a low-cost fare or a non-redeye flight without arriving or departing on Thanksgiving Day itself.

We don't care how early it seems or if your summer vacation just ended, and neither do the airlines. Holiday travel surcharges, shrinking capacity and a narrow travel window all help jack up prices while reducing alternatives for slow-footed folks such as yourself. Want to track down some early holiday presents? Start with your plane ticket.

We took our annual spin with the folks from TripAdvisor's SmarterTravel ( TRIP), Priceline ( PCLN) and found that not only are you cutting it close this far out, but you may have waited just a bit too late. Here are five reasons why:

5. Everybody wants to fly when you do

We don't just mean during the holidays. We mean the exact days you do. Yeah, we bet flying in on Nov. 27 just before Thanksgiving and leaving on Dec. 1 right after your tryptophan coma's worn off sounds lovely. It's ideal for just about everyone else out there, too, which is why those are easily the most expensive days to fly.

4. It's not getting cheaper

FareCompare's Seaney notes that the airlines tend to release cheap seats for Thanksgiving around this time each year and that this year's tickets are a scant 1% more than last year's, which is lower than inflation. He adds, though, that flights for the Thanksgiving and winter holidays usually don't get a stray fare decrease between now and then. These days, there's a far better chance airlines will continue to cut capacity as needed and leave you with nothing. Seaney says fares jump $5 a day between early October and the holidays, which jacks up the price of your ticket $35 for every week you wait.

3. Bargains are still costly

There are still lower fares out there, but they're on some of the least-convenient days on the calendar. FareCompare notes that the best days to fly during Thanksgiving week are Monday, Nov. 25, and Thanksgiving Day itself -- Nov. 28. Saturday, Nov. 30, is still a viable return date, but if you can hold out until Monday, Dec. 2, that's likely your best bet. It's nearly impossible to avoid the major airlines' $10 to $35 holiday surcharges during December, but if you can fly out on Monday, Dec. 16, and wrap up your vacation by New Year's Eve, there may be a bargain out there for you. Just be careful with that bag of travel tricks you use during the year, as ...

2. Layovers may not help

Sacrificing a nonstop flight for a 30-minute layover can shear $100 or more off the price of air travel, but that rule goes out the window during Thanksgiving. Seaney says a layover may help lower a fare, but it just as easily may not. It's often a bad deal for single passengers, who may not have in issue with a $10 to $20 disparity between a connecting flight and a direct route. A family of four paying $25 more per ticket apiece, however, may want to consider a layover. Just watch those cold-weather cities, which love surprising travelers with holiday gifts such as freak storms and a sleepover in the terminal. If you're looking for something more fail-safe, however ...

1. Keep the holiday traditions alive

There are tricks that work every year and have perennially helped travelers cut back on their holiday spending. For example, try smaller, less hectic airports within striking distance, such as Providence, R.I., or Manchester, N.H., for Boston; Philadelphia or Newburgh, N.Y., for New York City; or Long Beach for Los Angeles. Stick to airlines such as JetBlue ( JBLU) and Southwest ( LUV) to avoid baggage fees and consider springing for early boarding or extra legroom if you think it will cut down on the holiday hassle. Consider flying on the holiday itself, if possible. Not only are fares comparatively cheap, but the terminals are emptier and easier to navigate and flights will still get you there in time for dinner.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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