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Holiday Travel Sticker-Shock Hitting Home

If you haven't booked your holiday travel yet, you may be in for a rude awakening.

Thanksgiving week airfare, for instance, is up about ten percent from last year, Peter Greenberg offered suggestions Friday to help you soften the potential blows to your pocketbook, pointing to deals and discounts to check out. One key, he stresses, is acting fast. The old conventional wisdom that waiting for last-minute sales works is out the window this year:

Reduced capacity and a slightly better economy have led to increased airfares, overall.

Last year, the airlines cut prices to attract travelers during the recession, but with fewer seats available this year, carriers are making sure availability doesn't exceed demand.

The bottom line here is that travelers could end up paying as much as $170 more on an average ticket if they travel on peak dates, i.e. the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and returning on Sunday, according to USA Today.

To make matters worse, peak travel surcharges have been implemented by many airlines, including those we think of as less expensive ones, such as JetBlue and AirTran.

Farecompare.com has a handy chart that shows the $10-$30 charges per day by American, Continental, Delta, United, and US Airways:

November 19 $20
November 20-24 $10
November 25 - $0
November 26 -$10
November 27 - $20
November 28-29 - $30
December 17-19 - $10
December 20-22 - $20
December 23 - $30
December 24 $20
December 25 - $0
December 26-27 - $30
December 28-30 - $20
December 31 - Jan 1 - $10
January 2-3 - $30

So, waiting until the last minute to buy isn't going to work this year. Of course, we've been trained for more than three decades by the airline business to be last-minute bookers to earn the best discount. The problem is that, with decreased capacity and more people flying, the law of supply and demand kicks in, and waiting to the last minute only means you'll be paying much, much more.

A lot of airlines we have all come to count on for discount travel (such as JetBlue or AirTran) are also hiking fares this season. In some cases, the Wall Street Journal points out, their prices are actually higher than those of the bigger airlines.

But there is some good news if you CAN plan ahead:

DOMESTIC FARE SALES

There's actually an air fare sale going on RIGHT NOW, but it expires in three days. Most deals must be booked soon, and Thanksgiving blackout dates apply. But for those flexible enough to travel outside of peak holiday dates, the savings are there:

American Airlines

American Airlines is offering travel from $49 each way. Book by Sept. 27, for travel through Dec. 14, excluding November 19-20, 23-30. Travel must be round-trip and take place Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Saturdays. Taxes and fees not included.

As an added incentive, if a lower fare is found for the exact same flight and itinerary for at least $5 less on another site (for the same day of purchase), American Airlines will refund the difference and give a $50 promotion code for use toward a future flight.

Sample prices are one-way, based on round-trip booking:
Los Angeles - San Francisco $49
Denver - Los Angeles $99
New York - Las Vegas $109
Miami - Chicago $129

Southwest

Book by Sept. 27 for travel between Oct. 5 and Dec. 14. Sale fares start from $49 to $109 each way, based on round-trip travel.

Blackout dates apply Nov. 23-30. Travel is only valid on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturdays. Certain cities are excluded including New York, Washington, D.C. (Dulles) and Detroit.

Sample fares include (all prices are one way):

Long Island - Baltimore from $49
Milwaukee - Louisville from $87
Salt Lake City - Oakland from $92
Orlando - New Orleans from $109

Virgin America

Purchase tickets by Sept. 27 for travel through Dec. 15. Blackout dates are Nov. 24-27. All fares are one-way. Travel can take place any day of the week, but higher fares may apply for Friday and Saturday.

Washington - San Francisco $119
New York - Los Angeles $139
Boston - San Francisco $129

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My additional advice: Think of alternate routes (instead of non-stops, try one-stop flights. Those are often cheaper).

Also, consider alternate cities to your destination of choice (instead of Boston, fly to Providence, instead of San Francisco try Oakland. My personal favorite? Try Islip (on Long Island) instead of LaGuardia or JFK).

For details on holiday fare sales to Europe and Bermuda, and on holiday hotel, cruise, train and bus deals, go to Page 2.

Thanksgiving is also a great time to go to Europe!

FARE SALES TO EUROPE

Aer Lingus

Aer Lingus' latest promotion offering discounted flights to cities such as Paris, Barcelona, London, Rome, and others, from $398 round-trip. Aer Lingus' prices are similar to those offered by American, Continental, and United.

The travel window is lengthy: Nov. 1 to March 2011, but the sale has no expiration date, so it could disappear at any moment.

The flights are only available from JFK in New York, Boston, Chicago and Orlando. Flights to Dublin and Shannon must be booked by Sept. 29. All other destinations require 30-day advance purchase. Rates are one-way based on round-trip purchase. Taxes/fees additional.

New York(JFK)
Dublin, Shannon from $199
London each way from $229
Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Paris from $244

Boston(BOS)
Dublin, London, Shannon from $239
Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Paris from $254
Brussels, Barcelona each way from $264

Chicago (ORD)
London from $229
Amsterdam, Paris from $249
Brussels from $289

Orlando (MCO)
London from $269
Amsterdam from $279
Brussels from $289

American Airlines

Book by Sept. 30 for travel between Oct. 24, 2010 and March 31. Fares are not valid for travel Dec. 15 through Jan. 8. Saturday night stay is required.

Fares are one-way based on round-trip purchase and do not include taxes and fees.

New York - London $230
Boston - Manchester $244
Houston - Brussels $303
Chicago - Frankfurt - $311
Denver - Zurich $343
Seattle - Paris $361
San Francisco - Milan $369

Delta

Travel from New York-Kennedy to select cities in Europe starting at $638 round-trip.

Purchase by Sept. 27 for travel starting Oct. 4 - 23, to be completed on or before Nov. 23.

Fares are valid in the Economy (Coach) cabin on Delta, certain SkyTeam partners, and certain codeshare partner flights only. Fares shown are valid Sunday through Thursday, while higher fares apply for travel Friday through Saturday.

And let's not forget my favorite holiday time to travel. The two "DEAD WEEKS" -- the week immediately following Thanksgiving and the week immediately following New Years.

HOTEL & CRUISE DEALS (INCLUDING DEAD WEEK)

The Lodges at Deer Valley

Package includes kids ski free, 25 percent off ski rentals, and up to two complimentary lift tickets for children 12 and under with the purchase of two adult lift tickets. This package is available during the dead weeks of travel: Dec. 4 - 17; Jan. 3 - 13. Also available Jan. 19 - Feb. 9; and March 27 - April 10.

Miami's Trump International Beach Resort

Get all your holiday shopping done while enjoying the Miami sun. The Sun, Shop and Spa package features 20 percent off regular rates, from $199 a night. The deal applies to two-night stays Oct. 1 - Dec. 26, based on availability. That includes discounts at Bloomingdales including a 15 percent savings pass; a free shuttle to Bloomingdales and the Aventura Mall; discounts to Trump International's boutique shops; a free foot reflexology treatment; daily breakfast; and a Bloomingdale's tote bag with snacks and water. 1-888-392-7924

Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort

Through Nov. 20, buy two nights and get one night free. Advertised fall rates for a studio (enough room for a family of four) start from $129. However, rates are dependent on what rooms are available: An online search revealed Thanksgiving rates averaging $311 a night. The prices dropped for stays mid-week in early December and midweek just before New Years. 866-912-3224

Apple Core Hotels, New York

Fall travelers and football fans can get discounts between Oct. 1 and Nov. 30. Rates are from $299 a night in October and $279 in November. The Third and Long package includes accommodations at one of five Apple Core properties in New York City, plus a round of beer at one of four bars. (800) 567-7720

Celebrity Cruises - 5-night Western Caribbean

Cruising during the dead weeks is far more affordable than peak holiday seasons. Depart Dec. 6 from $259 per person or Dec. 11 from $279. Compare that to the Dec. 24 departure from $599 and Dec. 29 from $749. Rates drop back down to a reasonable $349 on a Jan. 3 (dead week) departure.

Princess Cruises - 7-night Eastern Caribbean

Depart Dec. 5 from $649 and December 12 from $514. Dec. 26, however, is a whopping $1,299. The price drops back down to $599 on Jan. 2.

If you can get there, you can save on accommodations.

Bermuda

This fall and winter, get every third night free with the Compliments of Bermuda program. This package is available at 15 participating hotels when booking a minimum three-night stay. Available for booking Sept. 15 - March 12, for travel Nov. 15 - March 15. Participating hotels include the Fairmont Hamilton Princess, Grotto Bay Beach & Tennis Club, St. George's Club and more. Rates run from about $125-$460 a night, based on availability.

Radisson Edwardian Hotels, United Kingdom

A month-long UK hotel deal involves 20 percent savings at 12 Radisson Edwardian hotels in London and Manchester. Book by Oct. 17 for travel between Dec. 19, 2010 and Jan. 9, and celebrate Christmas and New Year's abroad. Hotels are also offering 25 percent off dining at their restaurants. Rates exclude public holidays and New Year's Eve.

Room rates for start from at £75 for Radisson Edwardian Heathrow (approximately $117) per night. The Radisson Edwardian Bloomsbury starts from £115 a night (approx $180). The Radisson Edwardian Sussex is from £99 a night (about $155), located near Hyde Park. Radisson Edwardian Vanderbilt starts from £77 (about $120). And many more. (800) 333-3333

And perhaps as important, on shorter trips, the best, most economical alternative for holiday travel -- Bus and Trains.

BUS FARES

On routes that are 400 miles or less, the bus can make a lot of economical sense. Rates are consistent even around peak dates, but be sure to book early and arrive early as they can fill up fast. Sample rates on popular routes:

Greyhound
NY - DC
Wednesday - Sunday $65
Thursday - Saturday $65
Tuesday - Saturday $65

Kansas City - Chicago
Wednesday - Sunday $151
Thursday - Saturday $151
Tuesday - Saturday $151

Boston - NY
Wednesday - Sunday $65
Thursday - Saturday $65
Tuesday - Saturday $65

Megabus

NY - DC
Wednesday - Sunday $27
Thursday - Saturday $25
Tuesday - Saturday $21

Kansas City - Chicago
Wednesday - Sunday $64
Thursday - Saturday $65
Tuesday - Saturday - $65

Boston - NY
Wednesday - Sunday $26
Thursday - Saturday $24
Tuesday - Saturday $18

TRAIN PRICES-AMTRAK

NY - DC
Wednesday - Sunday $148
Thursday- Saturday $98
Tuesday-Saturday $106

Kansas City - Chicago

Wednesday - Sunday $126
Thursday - Saturday $100
Tuesday - Saturday $100

Los Angeles - San Francisco

Wednesday - Sunday $112
Thursday - Saturday $112
Tuesday - Saturday $112
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