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Holiday Travel on the Cheap

Thanksgiving is less than one month away, and travelers who continue wait until the last minute to book their tickets will pay a heftier price than last year. According to Bing Travel, fares for Thanksgiving travel have already gone up an average of six percent in the past week, and will keep rising.

However, CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg discussed on "The Early Show" a few tips on how you can still get good deals on Thanksgiving travel.

So why are prices going up closer to Thanksgiving, instead of down, like last year?

Greenberg said the airlines have cut capacity and as a result there are fewer flights. And, although fewer people are flying, the flights are going to be full.

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According Brian Clark, senior vice president and general manager of Fly.com, Thanksgiving fares are rising rapidly. Fares for Thanksgiving travel are up 15 percent versus a month ago: What was a $380 ticket is now $440 roundtrip, on average.

Major airlines are now charging a $10 fee to travel on days closer to the holidays. The extra fee is charged if you plan to travel on Nov. 29, Jan. 2 and Jan. 3. You can get around it, Greenberg said, by not traveling on those dates.

He suggested being a contrarian and flying out on Thursday, and return on Friday or Saturday for better deals and fewer crowds.

You could also skip travel during the holiday altogether. Traditionally, the dead week in travel happens on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (Dec. 1) and the Tuesday after New Year's Day (Jan. 5).

"That's when you'll find really great deals," Greenberg said. "But this year, it's even better, the dead week deals have been extended through Dec. 19."

When you travel is key, also, according to Greenberg.

He says you should always be flexible on the dates you travel. The peak travel days -- Wednesday outbound and Sunday return -- is where the airlines are commanding top dollar. But travelers can save if they can be flexible on dates, and book now. A quick look at some top markets on Fly.com shows that travelers can still save 25 percent to 50 percent by leaving on Tuesday, returning on Friday or Saturday after Thanksgiving.

From Newark to Los Angeles, for example, flights departing Wednesday and returning Sunday currently start at $631 roundtrip per person (including taxes) on US Airways. But, if you depart on Tuesday and return Saturday, the lowest fare is $467 on United (roundtrip per person, including taxes) -- a 25 percent savings. The lowest peak day fare from Boston to Miami is currently $642 on Airtran, but flights departing Tuesday and returning Friday will net a $289 fare on a non-stop American itinerary -- a 55 percent savings.

Greenberg is also a big fan of traveling on Thanksgiving Day.

"Historically, fares have come down dramatically on the Web the day before Thanksgiving. This will probably happen again this year," he said.

Greenberg said he approaches Thanksgiving by flying in on the first flight of the morning at 6:00 a.m. or 7:00 a.m.

"You'll get to where you need to go in plenty of time to carve the turkey," he said. "Stay over Thanksgiving night, and then on Friday, when all your friends and relatives are packed into the local shopping malls, then you fly home on a day that no one is flying."

He said you'll get discounted airfares on both legs of your trip.

And the best part?

Greenberg said, "When everyone else out there is doing their own personal presentation of (the movie) 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles,' and struggling to get home, you've handled thanksgiving, enjoyed a huge airfare discount, and get to enjoy the weekend back home."

According to Greenberg, it's generally cheaper to travel around Thanksgiving than Christmas.

Thanksgiving Day Travel Savings

Destination: Los Angeles to New York
Airline: Jet Blue
Departing: Wednesday before Thanksgiving
Returning: Sunday after Thanksgiving
Price: $800

vs.

Destination: Los Angeles to New York
Airline: Jet Blue
Departing: Thanksgiving morning
Returning: Friday afternoon
Price: $280

And when it comes to booking tickets, do you get a better bargain booking with a human being on the phone or by using travel search engines, such as Kayak or Expedia?

Greenberg said he prefers to speak to a real live person on the phone.

"The myth is that all the available inventory is on the web. It's not. It's all the inventory travel providers want to release to the web. That's where the human being comes in. Talk to one, then negotiate the best deal, and then -- don't purchase it. Hold it for 24 hours, then use that 24-hour window to surf the web to see if you can beat it. And if you can, great. This way you won't be trapped going to the web first and buying something you can't change."

But what about last-minute deals - do they still exist?

Greenberg says they do, and you can sign up for price alerts at Web sites, such as AirfareWatchdog.com, which tracks the best deals on the web.

"They update the airfares about 300,000 (times), a day so you're getting the latest," Greenberg said. "You can tailor-make it for where you are traveling from to a destination, and you get regular alerts."

Greenberg also recommended FareCompare.com, which analyzes historical trends. Greenberg said Bing Travel's Farecast will also tell you will a certain amount of confidence whether to buy now or wait based on historical price fluctuations.

Greenberg's Additional Travel Web Site Recommendations:

1. To stay on top of last-minute sales and deals, you can also try out Travelzoo.com, ShermansTravel.com and =http://www.bookingbuddy.com>BookingBuddy.com.

2. Sign up for the airlines' email alerts to stay on top of flash sales and deals.

3. Follow those airlines and travel providers in real-time on Twitter: Southwest, Virgin America, United.

Greenberg's Thanksgiving Holiday Deals and Steals:
Hotels.com's annual Thanksgiving Sale is offering savings of up to 40 percent on lodging in 100 cities across the U.S. beginning today through Nov. 26, for travel between Nov. 23-30, 2009.

Package Deal: Colonial Williamsburg (Domestic Travel)
Autumn is really beautiful in Williamsburg, with stunning foliage, cooler weather and new interactive programs throughout the Historic Area: The Autumn Getaway package, which starts at $149 per room, per night provides guests at the recently renovated Williamsburg Lodge a $100 resort credit valid for Sunday through Tuesday check-in. The exceptional resort credit can be used to dine at Colonial Williamsburg's restaurants and taverns, golf at the world-class Golden Horseshoe Golf Club, rejuvenate at the award-winning Spa of Colonial Williamsburg or shop in any Colonial Williamsburg store, where guests also receive an additional 20% off. The package is available for a two-night minimum stay from Sept. 6, 2009 through Dec. 29, 2009.

Continental Airlines (International Travel)
Spend your Thanksgiving in Europe! Continental is offering a fare sale on BusinessFirst seats to Europe, including Belgium, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Portugal, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Norway, Spain and Sweden. Rates are valid for outbound departure travel dates of Nov. 21-27, 2009, returning Nov. 26 - Dec. 4, 2009. (Travel on Nov. 29 or 30 is excluded). Round-trip travel required. Tickets must be purchased a minimum of 21 days in advance of planned departure date. Fares are nonrefundable and have a 5-day minimum stay requirement.

Rail Europe is discounting 20 percent (if you book before Nov. 20th) in honor of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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