We get this question a lot: When should I be booking my Thanksgiving airfare?
The answer -- as with a lot of travel deals -- is that it depends. It depends on how flexible you are with dates. It depends how tight your budget will be.
Airfare has risen consistently in 2011, due to a combination of increased fuel costs and fewer available seats. But there are good fares available if your dates are flexible. With the crowds at the airport, it's often best both for your sanity and wallet to avoid flying on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (Nov. 23) and the Sunday or Monday after (Nov. 27 or 28). To catch the lowest fares, our research shows you should leave the Saturday before (Nov. 19) or on Thanksgiving itself (Nov. 24) and return the Saturday (Nov. 26) or Tuesday after (Nov. 29). If your schedule is rigid on one half of the trip, moving the start or finish can still save hundreds of dollars.
It also depends if you'd rather spend $500 to fly home, or if you'd rather spend the dough on a trip somewhere exciting and new. We just compiled a list of top travel deals for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and here are top picks for a memorable Thanksgiving away from home. (Maybe the family can come along too.)
Orlando: A mouse in the hand beats a bird on the table. Thanksgiving is one popular travel period where Orlando is very affordable. We found deals on hotels for as low as $39 per night, with extras such as character breakfasts, shuttles to Disney and more. If it's a decision between going to Orlando over Thanksgiving or the week after Christmas, the best deals are over Turkey Day. Need a Disney fix on the West Coast? We found this deal right across from Disneyland for $89 per night.
Europe: Paris, Rome, Barcelona, London, Dublin -- sure beats Walla Walla. But with fare sales like this one from Icelandair and vacation deals to these classic European cities, it can often be just as cheap to visit Europe over Thanksgiving instead of going home. It may be a challenge to find a traditional turkey/stuffing/mashed potatoes meal on that Thursday, but a little wine and cheese and tapas could be better for the waistline anyway.
Early Ski Season: Why wait to get out the skis until 2012? Thanksgiving weekend marks the unofficial start to the ski season in many places, and we found deals in "hot spots" such as Telluride and Tahoe.
Big Cities: Feel the energy and hustle and bustle of Black Friday in cities such as New York, Washington, D.C., Boston and even on South Beach. The business crowds have thinned out, and leisure travel is slow too -- so hotels are offering aggressive discounts. Get away for a few nights, grab a Local Deal, a ticket to a show such as Radio City's Christmas Spectacular and take a city break.
Las Vegas: Sin City might not be the first pick for a Pilgrim holiday, but with deals at hip hotels such as the Hard Rock that even extend into weekends (a rarity in Vegas) and popular shows like Penn & Teller, this destination can be worth a Thanksgiving gamble.
Cruising: Here's a vacation where you don't have to leave the appetite at home. Visit several destinations on one trip: We found deals on Caribbean cruises and well as a luxury transtlantic Rome to Rio itinerary that includes airfare.
Need more inspiration? Find more holiday travel deals here.