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Experts advise booking holiday air travel early

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Holiday travel survival tips

• Avoid the peak travel dates. Around Thanksgiving, that would be the Wednesday prior to and the Sunday after the holiday (Nov. 21 and Nov. 25 this year). Christmas falls on a Tuesday this year, so the busiest days in December will likely be Monday the 24th and Wednesday the 26th.

• Don't piecemeal your itinerary; book a vacation package. If your holiday plans require a flight and a hotel, book them at the same time. Vacation packages give travelers access to airline and hotel pricing that's not available to people who book separately.

• Search surrounding airports. Big cities offer several flying options. For example, Los Angeles is served by airports in Ontario, Long Beach, Burbank and Orange County, in addition to its international hub. In Pittsburgh, backup plans can include Cleveland or Latrobe.

• No time like the present. Many people believe you'll get better deals later. That's not always so. The best time to book holiday travel is as early as possible. More people are traveling around Thanksgiving and Christmas, which means fewer available seats and higher prices.

• Check, double-check and triple-check. Continue to check fares after you book. If fares drop the day after you bought your ticket, you can cancel tickets within 24 hours of purchase without paying a fee or penalty. The flights must depart more than a week in advance. If fares drop outside this 24-hour window, most airlines have a credit or refund policy, but they might charge a fee.

• Weather or not. Even the best-made plans can be tripped up by the unexpected, such as medical emergencies, lost baggage and delayed flights. Weather is the biggest X factor, especially when traveling overseas or on trips involving multiple stops and destinations. Travel insurance might be a wise investment, especially if you prepay for an expensive package.

By Chris Ramirez
Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012, 8:58 p.m.

There isn't a hint of snow or mistletoe out there yet, but experts say it's never too early to map out your holiday travel plans.

Their advice — think ahead.

Way ahead.

Last month, an estimated 33 million American traveled at least 50 miles during Labor Day weekend, a post-recession high, according to AAA. Yet, nearly three times as many people are expected take to the nation's highways and airports during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season.

For those who will be flying, Courtney Scott, senior editor for Travelocity, recommends that you be flexible on your departure time and date to snag the best fare.

Traveling on the day of a holiday is even better. Fares tend to be cheaper, and airports typically are less congested.

“Thanksgiving and Christmas Day are some of the slowest of the year for the airlines,” Scott says. “Flying on the holiday ... isn't ideal for everyone, but if you can make it work, you'll save big bucks.”

Now might also be a good time to set up alerts from your favorite travel websites so you can be notified the minute a low-dollar fare is posted.

If tight spaces on small airplanes make you uncomfortable, get used to it. Things aren't expected to change any time soon.

Regional airlines, which typically use smaller jets and more fuel-efficient prop planes, account for more than 50 percent of the nation's commercial air traffic, according to the Regional Airline Association.

That trend will only increase, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which projects the airline industry will grow 2 percent to 3 percent each year during the next 20 years. The agency expects the volume of passengers to increase from 731 million passengers last year to 1.2 billion by 2032.

Airlines announce on your ticket the type of aircraft you will fly.

“If you're claustrophobic or get uneasy in a small area for too long, that's something you're going to want to pay attention to,” says Bob Thompson, manager of Ambassador Travel in McCandless.

When planning your trip, make sure to give yourself plenty of time between connecting flights, at least an hour or two to make connections.

“A lot of flights get delayed,” says Sarah Schlichter, editor for, a travel-guide website based in Pennington, N.J. “Even a 20-minute delay can make a difference if you only have 35 minutes to make the next flight.

“You may be able to run and make it, but your bags might not.”

Chris Ramirez is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-380-5682.

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