If you think you have extra time to make holiday travel plans because the turbulent economy will keep more people home – think again.
Most travel experts I talked with say that despite uncertain times, people still like to go home for the holidays. “People will borrow money to visit relatives during the holidays,” said Tony Maupin, owner of Maupin Travel in Raleigh.
However, there will likely be less congestion at airports – because there will be fewer seats to accommodate travelers.
This winter, U.S. airlines will experience worse-than-expected capacity declines as they fight to cut costs and offset fuel costs, according to a report released last week by the OAG Aviation Solutions.
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Domestic airlines will cut the number of available seats by 9 percent, or 21.4 million seats, during the fourth quarter, according to the report.
It will also reduce the number of flights by 265,000, or 59 percent of the global market.
That means a lot of would-be travelers this holiday season will be stranded on the tarmac.
“I recommend you get your reservations early,” Maupin said. “It's going to be tight. I think you will see some people who may not be able to fly who want to.”
People planning trips overseas or to their favorite tropical island won't fare much better.
OAG's latest figures show airlines worldwide will offer 46.3 million fewer seats this winter, and 451,000 fewer flights.
“They may be able to find a good deal on a hotel in the Bahamas, but they may not get a flight there,” Maupin said.
If flights are booked up, alternative transportation such as trains and buses are available. But it will likely cost more than the airfare.
For example, I recently compared costs of a roundtrip ticket from Raleigh to New York – leaving Nov. 25 and returning Nov. 29 – traveling by plane, bus and train. I checked Cheaptickets.com, Greyhound, and Amtrak. The lowest prices available were $197, $202 and $243, respectively.
If you want to compare those amounts to what it would cost to drive, you can go to AAA's fuel calculator Web site at www.aaa.com, click on the tab Autos & Driving and then click on gasprices/trips. The site estimates your costs based on regional gas price averages. In my example, the same round trip from Raleigh to New York City would cost about $122 in fuel.
If you do plan to fly over the holidays, here are some money-saving tips:
Book your reservation now. There are fewer seats for sale and only a slim chance of last-minute discount tickets.
If possible, be flexible with your travel dates. For example, staying over until Monday or Tuesday may save you hundreds of dollars if you can afford to take time off from work.
Pack light. Most airlines charge for overweight bags. Check your airline to find out its maximum weight and other baggage restrictions. If you have a lot of gifts, ship them.