It's Time to Snag Winter Holiday Travel Deals!

Thanksgiving and Christmas are a long way off, but when it comes to shopping for travel deals, right now may actually be perfect time to shop around. This marks a departure from previous years, when airlines waited until the last minute to put the best fares on sale, and we became a last minute nation for booking our travel. But this year, with reduced capacity (fewer planes, fewer flights), waiting until the last minute probably WON'T land you the best fare. CBS News Travel Editor Peter Greenberg has the inside scoop on everything from the cheapest airfares to the best cruise bargains:

Thanksgiving or Christmas in August? Well, when it comes to searching for reasonable airfares, the time may actually be perfect to do that holiday and winter shopping.

First the bad news: Airlines are now generating revenue from every possible source, and at least two, American and Delta, have already implemented peak-travel surcharges for November 19-29 and December 17-31, excluding Christmas Day.

The deals are certainly not happening like they were in 2009, when the industry was reeling from the recession.

According to Priceline's data on 2009, Thanksgiving fares started to increase after mid-September and didn't look back. Christmas fares spiked in mid-September, then dropped before climbing back up in the beginning of October.

This year, with reduced capacity (fewer planes and flights), waiting until the last minute to purchase your holiday tickets probably won't get you the best fares.

But the good news is that the carriers and other travel providers are trying to lock in travelers by rolling out the deals NOW.

Tip: Most of the time, the best time to travel is when everyone else isn't. And in my opinion, holidays like Thanksgiving are nothing more than an obligatory dysfunctional family get-together. So instead, look for deals that fall around the holidays, but not ON the holidays.

Several airlines have launched fare sales through mid-December.

For example, American Airlines is offering a domestic fare sale from $44 each way through December 15, but you must book by 11:59 p.m. Central Time on August 24. We're talking savings on travel between major cities like Atlanta to Miami from $69 each way, and Dallas to Ft. Lauderdale from $89 each way. link=>

Always, always read the fine print before you book: Those advertised prices are for one-way travel, but you're required to purchase a round-trip ticket. Blackout dates apply over Thanksgiving and other peak days (specifically Nov. 20, 23-24, 27, and 29). Advance booking is required, taxes and fees are not included, and for the lowest fare, travel must take place Monday through Thursday and Saturday.

Budget carrier AirTran has a similar deal, but with one twist: no round-trip purchase is required. Book by Aug. 24 for travel by December 15, and prices start from $49 each way. Blackout dates are Nov. 23-24 and 27-29, and of course, the standard advance purchase and weekday travel apply for the lowest fares. (Note that sale dates for certain routes may apply.)

Delta has also launched a fare sale, from Atlanta and Minneapolis. Same deal here: Book round-trip tickets by Aug. 24 for travel by Dec. 15, with blackout dates Nov. 23-24 and 26-29. If you can deal with the restrictions, you'll be rewarded with fares as low as $44 each way between Minneapolis and Milwaukee, and Atlanta to Chicago from $60 each way.

Or, you can skip seeing your demented uncle and crazy aunt altogether and head to Europe this fall! Delta is offering sales from New York and Atlanta to major European cities from $239 and $339 respectively, each way.

Continental has a similar sale if you're traveling BusinessFirst to Europe -- and this deal includes holiday dates! Departure must take place Nov. 21 - 27, 2010, returning Nov. 25 - Dec. 1; or depart Dec. 20, 2010 - Jan. 7, 2011, and return Dec. 24 - Jan. 13. This deal is valid on Continental as well as its partners, such as Air Canada, Lufthansa and United.

My advice: There will likely be one more airfare sale that will sneak out on Sept. 8, two days after Labor Day. But after that, my guess is there won't be another major airline sale for the rest of the year that will apply to holiday travel.

Then, there are the deals being rolled out by specific properties, based on the same philosophy that you'll be rewarded if they can lock in your business now.

Several RockResort properties, including The Lodge at Vail, Keystone, The Osprey at Beaver Creek, and Hotel Jerome in Aspen, are offering a free night of lodging during the holidays when you book by Oct. 31, 2010. The Holidays on Us program means you can book two nights and get the third for free on Thanksgiving Day, MLK Day, and Easter Sunday; buy three nights and get the fourth free over Christmas Day, Valentine's Day or President's Day.

For example, at Keystone, a studio condominium rental that falls over Dec. 21-26 will cost about $664.64. When you factor in the one free night, that works out to $119 per night for five nights. Not a bad deal, especially when you consider the package also includes free activities like admission to an ice-skating rink, a snow bike lesson and yoga classes.

And, going back to the theory that if the going gets tough, the tough go to Europe, Uniworld is offering discounts for early birds. Book a European holiday river cruise by Aug. 31, 2010 and save up to $300 per person.

If you're in the market for cruises, here's what you want to do: Sail in early December.