Thanksgiving Travel to Be Worse Than Usual: What You Can Do

Last Updated Nov 10, 2010 12:39 PM EST

Get ready for an especially annoying Thanksgiving travel experience this year. If you're flying over the holiday, you're probably already well aware that airline prices are higher; according to CBS Travel Editor Peter Greenberg, we're shelling out about 50 percent more this year than last. But wait, it gets worse. Prep yourself for enduring a sardine experience to get to your turkey destination as the Air Transport Association says flights will be packed to 90 percent of capacity.

According to Bloomberg, that will make air travel the most crowded it's been since 1944, and travelers back then didn't have to deal with interminable security check lines and mano-a-mano jostling for overhead storage space. Planning to stick to the ground for your Thanksgiving travels? Well, gas prices are already 7 to 9 percent higher than a year ago. And if the Federal Reserve's QE2 policy keeps pushing the dollar down, that will likely mean prices at the pump will head even higher, as the cost of oil -- priced in U.S. dollars -- rises. The weekly gas price survey from AAA shows that a gallon of regular rose 6 cents last week.


Here are some tips on how to navigate the costs and stress of holiday travel:


AIR TRAVEL
Make a dramatic entrance...and slip out early. If you've yet to book your flight, CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg suggests avoiding any Wednesday flight -- typically the busiest travel day of the year -- and plan on catching on early flight on Thursday morning. That is indeed the least crowded travel day during the holiday week, according to the ATA. The same theory works for the return flight; Sunday is a killer, so try to head home on Saturday if you can to avoid some of the crowds. You'll also save a bundle avoiding peak travel surcharges. Greenberg says he recently found an LA-NY roundtrip for $279 by avoiding the Wed-Sun time frame, nearly half the cost of traveling during the peak days.


Develop a family baggage strategy. No, I'm not offering tips for navigating the conversation around the Thanksgiving table, but how to minimize the financial and psychic cost of dealing with checked baggage. Greenberg is a big fan of shipping your luggage via FedEx or UPS Ground. Yes, that means getting organized well in advance so you can mail your luggage at least three to four days ahead of your arrival. "It may end up costing you $15 to $20 more than paying for a checked bag," says Greenberg. "But your baggage won't be lost and you won't lose 2 1/2 hours of your life waiting standing around checking bags and dealing with baggage claim, assuming the airline doesn't lose your bag."
Save on baggage fees in the future. If you tend to travel on Delta or Continental you may be able to avoid the checked baggage fee -- which can run as high as $200 roundtrip for a family of four -- by opening a credit card sponsored by the airline. That typically entitles you to free checked baggage. Yeah, your credit score might take a temporary ding when you open a new credit line, but you'll save plenty if you are frequent fliers.


AUTO TRAVEL

Invest in EZ-Pass. If your route involves toll roads, bridges, and tunnels, and you have yet to outfit your car with a transponder that entitles you to zip through the express lane, what exactly are you waiting for? You know there's going to be a lot of traffic; any chance to move through it faster seems like a smart family survival tactic.

Buy a cheap portable DVD player. Okay, if kids are in the mix, and you've yet to take the plunge into the DVD-equipped mini-van, a good investment could be a portable DVD player for everyone's sanity. Maybe I'm the last person to realize this, but you can pick up a portable player for under $100 these days. My MoneyWatch colleague Sarah Lorge Butler has a great list of kid-travel survival tips, including the advice to invest in headphones for the kids as well. (By the way, if you and the kids don't get carsick reading on the road, Sarah recently shared a fabulous list of terrific children's' books.)



Get on the bus. If you've only got a few hundred miles to get where you need to go, a bus can be the most economical mode of transport and save you plenty of road rage. And if you haven't checked out buses lately, take another look. Many bus lines have added comfy seats and free wireless.


More on MoneyWatch:


How to Save on Holiday Travel


Peter Greenberg's Top 10 Travel Secrets

How to Survive Holiday Travel With the Kids