Holiday flights more costly, more crowded

Posted: October 26, 2011

If you are flying to Uncle Fred's for turkey, football and pumpkin pie, it's going to cost more this Thanksgiving.

Airlines have raised ticket prices nine times since the beginning of the year, and fares are up 7 percent to 11 percent - or more - on some U.S. routes, say airline analysts and the airfare tracker,

United and Continental Airlines raised fares $2 to $5 one-way on domestic routes on Monday, and US Airways Group Inc., Delta Air Lines and American Airlines all matched the $4 to $10 round-trip hikes across most of their routes.

"There have been two fare hikes attempts in the last few days," said Citi airline analyst Will Randow. "With the latest moves, fares on average would be up $80 this year." The fare hikes are in response to high fuel prices.

Bob McAdoo, airline analyst with Avondale Partners L.L.C., said passengers are paying on average 11 percent more this year than last, and probably more during peak holiday flying.

"On some routes it can be ridiculously high, especially for nonstops," said Rick Seaney, CEO of The highest fares are on nonstop flights and on days people most want to travel.

The Sunday after Thanksgiving is the most expensive day of the year to fly. One of the cheapest days to fly is Thanksgiving Day.

"The trick is to leave Thanksgiving morning, and come back on the Friday or Saturday after Thanksgiving," said George Hobica, founder of "That's when you can save money."

On US Airways' website, the cost of a nonstop Philadelphia flight to Kansas City, departing Wednesday Nov. 23 and returning Sunday Nov. 27, was $644, as of Wednesday. If the traveler returned on a 7:15 a.m. flight on Friday Nov. 25, the round-trip tab dropped to $334.

Nonstops at Christmas - departing Dec. 23 for Kansas City and returning Dec. 25 were $449. The same flights for the last weekend in January cost $278.

"Airlines change fares all the time; there are many fare classes," Hobica said. "Don't be discouraged. Keep checking. Fares fluctuate almost daily, if not hourly."

Planes will be even more crowded this season, as airlines continue to cut capacity through the end of the year and into next.

FareCompare estimates there will be 8,000 fewer flights this Thanksgiving, and 600,000 fewer seats. "I guarantee you there will be fewer people flying this year because there are fewer seats," Seaney said. "Demand looks pretty good for the holiday season, but part of it is, there are a lot fewer seats out there."

Fares at Christmas and New Year's also will be higher.

Seaney said that each day a traveler delays buying a ticket adds $5 to the price. "If you wait, you are going to get caught up in a lack of seats and higher prices. So it's better to lock in now. Historically, we've seen what we call 'Turkey Fares' the week before Thanksgiving, and some last minute holiday fares. I don't expect to see them this year."

Fewer people will be flying this Thanksgiving, according to a national opinion poll conducted by Maritz Research. In the mid 2000s, about 25 percent of Thanksgiving travelers took to the skies. Last year, the number was 19 percent, and this Thanksgiving 16 percent are expected to travel by air.

"It's been a steady decline," said Rick Garlick, pollster and statistician for Maritz Research based in St. Louis. A majority plan to get to their destinations by car, and fewer by plane for several reasons: continued unemployment, worry about a second recession, higher fares, more crowded planes, and the hassle of security screenings.

"If airfares are higher, and I'm more concerned about finances, air travel is much less appealing," Garlick said.

Southwest Airlines Co. recently launched a fare sale, but the discounts don't apply during the holidays.

"Those fares are only good for the first two weeks in December, and the six weeks after the first week in January," Seaney said. If you travel then, "you can get ridiculously good deals."

Contact staff writer Linda Loyd at 215-854-2831 or

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