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Reality Check: Surcharges Over U.S. Thanksgiving

Plan to travel to the U.S. for American Thanksgiving? If you have yet to purchase your Thanksgiving flights, that ticking clock is getting louder by the day.

Finding a sale fare for the U.S. Thanksgiving period is always tricky, but there are some great sales out in the market. Many popular U.S. carriers, such as American, Virgin America and Delta have impressive discounts for travel all the way through February. As procrastinators’ luck would have it, the most popular flight dates around Thanksgiving are blacked out (as is most of the second half of December, for that matter).

So how do you still manage to save money on that Thanksgiving trip?

Your best bet might be to be on the lookout for surcharges, the extra fees tacked on by airlines for the privilege of flying on the same days everyone else wants to fly. A premium, of sorts, for flying on extra busy days. They’re embedded into the fare you’re seeing, so don’t worry about paying extra somewhere down the road. But they do add to already-higher airfares (anywhere from 10%-20% more than what we paid for Thanksgiving flights last year).

Here’s the good news: navigating around even the busiest days could save you considerably on those surcharges. Enough cash -- especially when you multiply it by the number of people in your travelling party -- to still make flexibility your best holiday travel friend. Surcharges will be highest, averaging US$30 each way, on the Sunday and Monday after Thanksgiving; everyone wants to head back home on those days. They can be less than half that if you fly the Friday after Thanksgiving; most people are still at Grandma’s sleeping off the tryptophan from the night before.  And surcharges are non-existent on the holiday itself; a morning flight on Thanksgiving, then, could really save you some cash, while still getting you to carving time on time.

The only other day between now and New Year’s Eve with no airfare surcharge is -- you guessed it -- Dec. 25.

It bears noting that travelling the first two weeks of December could be a great money-saving alternative. Surcharges are non-existent. And it offers a great array of airfare and hotel savings, especially to popular destinations competing for your holiday dollars, such as Las Vegas, Orlando and New York City.

All those other fees, of course, aren’t going anywhere: extra charges for checked bags, aisle seats and priority boarding. So consolidate, check in early for your flights and fend for yourself as much as possible -- that is, pack DVD players and snacks for the kids, and pillows and earplugs for you. And then take a deep breath; it’s the holidays, so longer lines, swarming airports and packed planes are the norm. Best to keep an eye on the prize: the family feast.

Happy travels.

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Deal Expert, Los Angeles
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
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Gabe Saglie