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Traveling for the holidays? Here's how to dodge high prices and crowded flights

How to save money on holiday travel
Travel Watch: Holiday travel tips that will save you money 03:37

Thanksgiving and Christmas airfares are shaping up to be some of the most expensive of the year. Domestic airfare for Thanksgiving is now averaging $281 roundtrip – up 25% from last year, according to Hopper. Christmas will be even more expensive, with prices averaging $435 roundtrip, 55% more than what tickets cost during the 2021 holiday.

And prices are increasing at the rate of about 4% per week — so for each week you wait to book a flight, expect the fare to go up.

The best time to book flights for the holidays was two months ago — or four months before travel. But there are still a number of great holiday deals throughout the U.S and the Caribbean — especially if you want to get away instead of see family.

holiday travel costs
Holiday travel is already more expensive than last year — and prices are only going up. CBS News

Want to fly to St. Thomas? Flights to the U.S. Virgin Island are as low as $224 (or you can redeem 13,000 Delta miles) for flights from South Florida and Los Angeles. Or, you can get to St. Thomas from New York on Delta for $224 or 13,000 miles, or from Los Angeles to St. Thomas for $337. Or, flying from Miami to St. Croix will cost $310 on American Airlines.

But the biggest holiday travel discounts? Cruise lines. Around 1,500 separate cruise itineraries — including Thanksgiving and Christmas itineraries — are averaging less than $100 a night. And on some cruise lines — such as Carnival — a four-night cruise immediately after Thanksgiving averaged just $26 per night and another three-night cruise for $33 a night. 

A Carnival cruise to the Bahamas from Port Canaveral in Florida from Nov. 28 to Dec. 2 averages $104 per person for a two-person room, or $26 a day. After taxes, fees, and port expenses, the cruise is about $507.

And a Norwegian getaway — a 10-day cruise over the Thanksgiving holiday to Jamaica, Aruba, Curacao and the Dominican Republic, with an open bar — works out to $63 a night.

Some other incredible cruise deals for November include five nights on Holland America out of Vancouver for an average base of $36 per day and six nights in November out of Barcelona on MSC Cruises for roughly $50 a day. Look for fast flash sales from the cruise lines with similar big discounts.

Europe — where the U.S. dollar is almost on par with the British pound and the euro — is also a place to look for holiday deals, especially if you're willing to play with travel dates. If you leave trade Newark for Barcelona before Thanksgiving and come back right after, you'll pay just $535 on United. Or, fly SAS from the U.S to Europe in November and December in discounted premium economy to cities like Copenhagen, Orlo, Paris, Zurich, Amsterdam or Brussels, starting at $653.

And if you can wait until January, the fares drop precipitously: Head from New York to Lisbon for a week or two for just $390 on United.

If you're unwilling to jettison the turkey altogether, consider going a week after Thanksgiving and carve the turkey then. In the airline industry, that's known as the dead week, as people recover from their family holiday – with round-trip domestic fares averaging about $78.

The other way to approach holiday travel is not to be trapped by the worst Wednesday of the year: the day before Thanksgiving, whose annual travel chaos inspired the 1987 classic "Planes, Trains and Automobiles." To get the best fares, leave the Thursday before Thanksgiving, and return the Friday immediately following the holiday. While the rest of your relatives are stuck in Black Friday traffic at the mall, you're already headed home and have the whole weekend ahead of you, with lower airfares in the process.

And be on the lookout for a number of airline flash sales from airlines like Jet Blue and Southwest, with fares starting as low as $29. While flash sales are here today and usually gone in 36 hours, in many cases you can book through the end of February 2023. Southwest's winter sale, for example, expired Oct. 6 — but will likely reappear as another flash sale early next week.

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