Business

7 things to know when planning holiday travel from Charlotte

If you’re planning to fly this holiday season but haven’t booked your tickets, don’t despair: It’s not too late to find a deal on airfare. But the window is closing fast.

And if you’ve already booked your tickets, be prepared for new parking options at Charlotte Douglas International Airport this year. Here are seven things you need to know to help you with a smooth getaway.

1 Charlotte Douglas is supposed to have more parking this year.

Parking has been a struggle at Charlotte’s airport since last year, when the airport tore down the hourly parking deck in front of the terminal. Gone were thousands of parking spaces: Last Thanksgiving, Charlotte Douglas was abruptly left with 22,000 spaces, down from 26,000 the year before. The new hourly deck is scheduled to open before Thanksgiving, in mid-November, though an exact date hasn’t been set. The hourly deck will have 4,000 public parking spaces, restoring much of the lost capacity and – airport officials hope – relieving much of the congestion. A 3,200-space second business valet deck is scheduled to open in December.

You can see what parking lots are available at Charlotte Douglas by checking parking.charlotteairport.com. Park ’N Go also offers off-site parking on Scott Futrell Drive with a shuttle to and from the terminal for $4.95 a day.

Construction of the airport’s new roadway system has altered traffic patterns. You can find more information and maps at construction.cltairport.com.

2 Be prepared to pay more, especially for peak travel days.

Airfare has been rising faster than inflation, even though fuel prices have fallen. A recent study from travel website Expedia.com found the average airfare for Thanksgiving travel is $467, up 17 percent this year. And the Department of Transportation said last week that average round-trip domestic airfares rose 5.4 percent at Charlotte Douglas in the second quarter, to $436. That’s the 22nd-highest out of the nation’s top 100 airports.

Fares will likely be even higher on the most popular days to fly, such as the day before Thanksgiving. George Hobica, founder of AirFareWatchdog.com, said flying on less-popular travel days is a way to save. For example: Flying on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day might not be ideal, but if you can leave that day instead of the day before, you’re likely to get a much better price.

3 Don’t just look at Charlotte Douglas and US Airways/American.

With American Airlines (which merged with US Airways in December) operating its second-busiest hub in Charlotte, it can feel like the city is a one-carrier town. A look at the tail designs confirms it: US Airways/American operates more than 90 percent of daily flights at Charlotte Douglas.

But there are other options. Frontier Airlines flies from Charlotte to Trenton, N.J., which can be a viable alternative to Philadelphia and Washington Dulles International. Southwest also flies from Charlotte, and Allegiant flies from Concord to Orlando, Fla., and Tampa Bay, Fla. If you’re willing to take a layover instead of a nonstop flight, you might be able to find cheaper options on Delta Air Lines flying from Charlotte through Atlanta, or United through one of its hubs.

And Charlotte travelers have long been known to drive to nearby airports such as Piedmont Triad International in search of cheaper connecting flights. “You don’t all have to go to CLT,” Hobica said.

4 Don’t give up if prices are prohibitively high.

If prices are simply too high for you to justify a plane ticket, don’t give up: Airlines sometimes discount unsold seats at the last minute, Hobica said. “Sales pop up. Fares do change,” Hobica said. If you’ve already decided to drive 600 miles or skip Thanksgiving altogether, searching again for flights just before your trip can’t hurt. But such seats, which Hobica called the “bargain bin,” are likely to be the worst on the plane (middle seat in the back row that doesn’t recline, for example) and the worst schedules (leaving at 7 a.m. Saturday).

5 Expand your search beyond the standard websites.

Hobica encourages people to search on travel websites such as Kayak.com and Orbitz.com, but also to look beyond them. Carriers such as Southwest, Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant either list their tickets only on their own sites or charge more for tickets booked through third-party websites.

6 Don’t believe Tuesday is the only day to get a deal.

One of the most common pieces of airfare lore is that there’s one day when tickets are most likely to be on sale. Usually, that’s given as Tuesday. But Hobica said that’s not the case. With airfares changing unpredictably and often controlled by complex algorithms, he advocates a more wide-ranging approach.

“There’s no magic day,” he said. “I would search every day of the week, a couple times a day. Don’t give up.”

7 If all else fails, gas is cheaper this year.

If you can’t find an affordable flight and decide to drive, take some comfort in lower gas prices. The average price of a gallon of gas was $2.86 this week in Charlotte, according to AAA. That’s down 12 percent from the same time last year. And analysts have said they expect the low prices to stick around through the holidays.

  Comments