Five tips for booking holiday travel

If you’re planning to fly home for the holidays this year, it’s time to start booking your flight. Even though fares are cheaper than they were last year, prices have been going up over the fast few weeks, according to a report in USA Today. Thanksgiving prices are down around 7%, with the Christmas/New Year’s season down 12% from last year. Since the travel market is still limping along, you may be able to pick up some deals. To get the most for your money, though, you’ll need to put in a little bit of effort.

1. Turkey over ham: puts the average price for a Thanksgiving ticket booked from July 1 to October 1, 2009 at $361. For the December holidays, the average was $440. Opting for the closer holiday thus can save you a few bucks.

2. Don’t be demanding: if you have the elbow room to choose different dates around the holiday (maybe visit mom and dad a little longer), you can trim a few dollars from your fare – in particular the new $10 (each way) surcharge that some major airlines are applying to flights from November 29 to 30 and December 19, 26-27 and January 2 and 3. Being flexible on airports might nab you a better deal, as well.

3. Visit, don’t move in: we’re all familiar with the extra baggage fees that airlines have come to enjoy rely on. Cut your load down to the essentials. Doing your laundry on your parents’ dime may be easier and cheaper than the local laundry dive, but your savings may disappear if you try to drag it all on the plane.

4. Use your computer: check in at home or work. The lines will be crazy at the airport anyway, so you’re actually paying yourself to have an easier trip. If this isn’t win-win defined, I don’t know what is.

5. Save a little, not a lot: pounce on reasonable fares. If you try to wait for the deal of the year, you could be stuck paying much more than you wanted. Pay a little more than you may want to pick up some predictability.

While you’re at it, start thinking about how to survive the annual airport gauntlet. For Christmas last year, I put together a list of ways to make your travel experience a bit easier. It may be worth another look.