TIME Saving & Spending

The Secret to Getting a Ridiculously Cheap Thanksgiving Flight

Travelers Embark On Holiday Travel Day Before Thanksgiving
Delta planes at the Salt Lake City international Airport on November 27, 2013 in Salt Lake City, Utah. George Frey—Getty Images

Every travel agency is saying something different, but there are some tips that aren't up for debate

For years, travel search engines have scoured through their dense databases to determine the best day to book your Thanksgiving flights. This year, like every year, there’s a lot of mixed messages on what to do if you’ve procrastinated on booking tickets. Here’s what the big players are advising for cheap domestic U.S. air tickets:

  • Kayak: Book in early November, about two to four weeks before Thanksgiving.
  • Skyscanner: Two weeks prior to Thanksgiving.
  • Orbitz: This Wednesday, Thursday or Saturday. If not then, then before Nov. 18.
  • Cheapair: It depends on way too many things.

So what’s the takeaway? It’s better to be safe and book flights now, but you if you’re a risk taker, you can wait until the beginning of November to book your flights. But try not to wait until the week of Thanksgiving. It’s also important to weigh the risks of an unexpected fare hike in light of what your benefits of waiting actually are. These hyped “savings” are usually only about 5 to 10% less than the average fare, which amounts to $15 to $30 if your ticket costs $300.

In fact, since airline fares are notoriously difficult to understand, often the better question to ask is what not to do when you’re booking Thanksgiving.

Here are a few tips that travel search engines all agree on:

Don’t book a departure flight on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (Nov. 26), or a return flight on the Sunday after Thanksgiving (Nov. 30).

Airfares increase as flights get fuller, and the Wednesday and Sunday flanking the Thanksgiving holiday are when the most people are traveling. A simple airfare search shows just how much more expensive it is to book travel on one of these days. In some cases, fares are up to twice as high.

If you have to book for Wednesday or Sunday, then book your tickets as early as possible.

If you’re locked into a Wednesday departure flight, aim for a Friday or Tuesday return flight, which is around 25% cheaper than returning on Saturday, Sunday or Monday, according to an analysis by Cheapair.

Booking a return flight on Sunday results in the most dramatic airfare spike, and there’s not really much you can do to save money other than to book your departure flight on Thanksgiving Day. But the tradeoff of sacrificing a chunk of your holiday is a discount of only about 10%, so it may make more sense to pick a different day—even if it’s Wednesday. In general, having a Sunday return flight means you’re stuck with a sky-high ticket price.

Consider booking a departure flight or return flight on Thanksgiving Day—or both.

If you depart and return on Thanksgiving Day, your fare may be up to 30% cheaper than the average price, according to Kayak. And even if you only depart (and not return) on Thanksgiving, those savings are particularly meaningful when applied to longer, more expensive flights. For example, flying the JFK-LAX route departing on Thanksgiving instead of the day before can save you nearly $100.

Don’t book flights in groups.

If you’re booking as a family and there are only a few flights left in the lowest fare category, it’s possible the airline will bump the entire party up to the next fare category, according to Cheapair. That doesn’t mean you can’t travel as a family, though: you just might have to book each person’s ticket individually.

Check other smaller airports nearby.

There’s often regional and even international airports near the ORDs, JFKs and LAXs of major U.S. cities. If you’re in Chicago, for example, consider Chicago Midway Airport instead of O’Hare; if you’re in Los Angeles, consider Long Beach Airport instead of LAX. Both are cheaper airports than their neighboring giants, according to Cheapflights.com, which ranked the nation’s 101 most affordable airports.

Check smaller airlines.

The five biggest U.S. airlines—American, United, Delta, Southwest and JetBlue—all increased their base fares slightly despite lower fuel prices and a worldwide fear of Ebola. While the effect on consumers is not yet clear, it’s also worth checking out smaller airlines like Spirit, Frontier and Virgin.

TIME Aviation

Airlines Hike Prices on Domestic Flights

JetBlue initiated the $4 fare increase

The five biggest U.S. airlines all increased their base fare on domestic flights in the past week, despite declining fuel prices and apprehension over the potential spread of Ebola.

JetBlue initiated a $4 fare increase last Thursday, and United, Delta, American and Southwest followed suit, the Associated Press reports.

Though the airlines are trying to boost revenue with an across-the-board price increase, the effect it will have on the average consumer is less clear. Even with a base fare increase, airlines change prices frequently to adjust for evolving demand.

The move comes despite a slip in fuel prices (one of an airline’s largest expenses) and worldwide fear over Ebola. Both factors might seem to give airlines reasons to cut fares.

Wall Street seemed to reward the price increase with shares in the major airlines all gaining by at least 3%.

[AP]

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 20

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Early intervention for young people could halt schizophrenia before it starts.

By Amy Standen at National Public Radio

2. Next generation air traffic control management can reduce delays and frustration at the airport.

By Aaron Dubrow at the National Science Foundation

3. Alabama prisons are at 190% capacity. Sentencing reforms are slowing prison population growth, but much work remains.

By Kala Kachmar in the Montgomery Advertiser

4. In the five weeks remaining under the deadline, the U.S. and Iran can reach a historic accord on nuclear arms.

By Joe Cirincione in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

5. For the peaceful coexistence of bicycles and everyone else in a city, we can learn a lot from Copenhagen.

By Mikael Colville-Andersen in the Guardian

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Aviation

Flight MH370 Spiraled Into Sea When Fuel Ran Out: ATSB Report

The plane hit the ocean a relatively short distance after the last engine flameout

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 went into a slow left turn and spiraled into the Indian Ocean when its fuel ran out, an interim report concluded Wednesday, pointing investigators towards the southern section the current search zone. Flight simulations recreating the final moments of the aircraft, which vanished March 8 en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, suggest it entered “a descending spiraling low bank angle left turn” and hit the ocean “a relatively short distance after the last engine flameout,” the Australian Transportation Safety Bureau (ATSB) said in an update [PDF link].

The analysis confirms the jet crashed…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

    TIME Travel

    Ill Airline Passenger Prompts Medical Response

    NEWARK, N.J. — Officials say an ill passenger prompted medical crews to meet an overseas flight that landed at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.

    The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey says Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials were part of Saturday’s response for a man who became sick on board United Airlines Flight 998 from Brussels.

    Port Authority spokeswoman Erica Dumas says the man began vomiting during the flight. Dumas says the man’s daughter was also on board and taken off with him.

    Authorities said the plane’s crew and its roughly 250 remaining passengers stayed onboard for about 90 minutes while the man received medical treatment, then were allowed to leave.

    United Airlines said in a statement the ill passenger was taken to a hospital.

    TIME Aviation

    Flights in Chicago Slowly Return to Normal After Control Center Fire

    Flight Cancellations Continue At Chicago's O'Hare After Yesterday's Fire
    The arrival and departure display at O'Hare International Airport shows a list of cancelled flights on Sept. 27, 2014 in Chicago. Scott Olson—Getty Images

    More than 2,000 cancelled flights and delays

    The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday that it expects a Chicago-area air traffic control center to be fully operational in a couple weeks, after a fire there Friday led to thousands of canceled and delayed flights.

    The fire at the air traffic control center in Aurora, Ill. led to more than 2,000 canceled flights on Friday at Midway and O’Hare airports. By Sunday, O’Hare Airport was about 60% operational while Midway was about 75% operational, according to the FAA, after Aurora-based traffic controllers relocated to facilities across the Midwest. Delays continued to persist on many flights.

    The air-traffic controllers will continue to work at other facilities until the Chicago center is fully operational, which is expected to happen by Oct. 13

    TIME Military

    Military Pilots Enjoy National Parks, Too

    They've got the right stuff when it comes to making a quick visit

    If you’ve ever attended an air show, you know to expect the Navy’s Blue Angels or the Air Force’s Thunderbirds to suddenly roar overhead, hugging the Earth and delightedly scaring young and old alike.

    It’s quite a different matter when you’re quietly communing with nature on the ridge of a canyon deep in Death Valley, and a pair of F-18s screams by—flying lower than you, down in the rocky gash.

    That’s just what happens in this recently-posted YouTube video. It’s no surprise that the gobsmacked reaction of those on the ground (foul-language alert!) is just as much fun to witness as the F-18 Hornets themselves, which likely came from the nearby Navy’s China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station.

    “If there is one thing in this world that can turn a fully grown man into an excited teenage girl,” one viewer enthused, “it’s the sound of two GE F404 engines tearing overhead.”

    Such flights, by military and other aircraft, have long been a concern, both for environmental and safety reasons. While it may be exciting, is this the proper use for such a national treasure (in this case the park, not the jets)? You bet, according to the National Park Service, which oversees the 5,200 square-mile California park.

    While the FAA urges civilian aircraft to fly no lower than 2,000 feet—and orders them to stay above 500 feet—such altitude restrictions don’t apply to military planes. That’s because much of Death Valley is part of the R-2508 military training complex. “Congress and the FAA have given the military authority to deviate from standard flight regulations in the training complex,” the park service says. Outside of Death Valley itself—which includes many valleys—“the military can fly to within 200 feet of the ground.”

    The military services regulate flights over national parks (Air Force, Army), but those rules don’t always apply when the park is part of a military training range.

    Military pilots will tell you that flying low amid terrain—to practice hiding from enemy radar—can be good training for possible real-world missions. But such flights—especially outside military ranges—carry risks. In 1998, a Marine EA-6B jet crew was schussing, too fast and too low, through Italy’s Dolomite Mountains. It clipped a ski gondola cable and sent it plummeting more than 300 feet to the ground, killing all 20 aboard. “The aircraft,” the official investigation concluded, “flew lower and faster than authorized wherever the terrain permitted.”

    The pilot and navigator were cleared of charges of involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide. They were later convicted of obstruction of justice and conduct unbecoming an officer for destroying a videotape, perhaps resembling the one from Death Valley, made from the cockpit during the fatal flight through Alpine Valley.

    TIME Aviation

    More Pilots in Crashes Are on Drugs, Report Says

    Toxicology reports over the last two decades show sharp increase drug use among pilots and in drug mixing as well

    More pilots involved in airplane crashes are testing positive for drugs, according to an analysis of toxicology reports going back 20 years by the National Transportation Safety Board.

    According to the draft report released Tuesday, in 1990 just 9.6% of pilots involved in crashes tested positive for one drug, compared to 39% in 2012. Drug mixing—which can be an especially dangerous and unpredictable way to consume drugs—has been on the rise as well.

    The study crunched the numbers on toxicology reports from nearly 6,700 pilots who were killed in airplane crashes between 1990 and 2012. The study looked at the use of both legal and illegal drugs and found increases in the use of all drugs.

    Alcohol was not considered in the study.

    The most commonly used drug that can cause impairment was diphenhydramine, a sedative antihistamine used in cold medicine and other related applications. Few pilots tested positive for illegal drugs, the report says, but the percentage of pilots who tested positive for marijuana increased over the study period, mostly in the last 10 years.

    Because the vast majority of airplane crashes involve non-commercial flights, more than 90% of the pilots tested were private pilots rather than commercial air carrier pilots.

    TIME Aviation

    Hunt for Missing Plane Takes New Course After 6 Months

    Malaysia Plane
    Flight officer Rayan Gharazeddine on board a Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion, scans for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in southern Indian Ocean, Australia, March 22, 2014. Rob Griffith—AP

    Not since the American aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart disappeared without a trace over the Pacific 77 years ago has there been a mystery like it.

    And in so many respects the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 exactly six months ago today is a far more profound puzzle.

    When Earhart went missing her plane was equipped with radio navigation systems, a Morse code receiver and a voice transmission system, all of which she used until her plane vanished into the sea. But this is rudimentary equipment compared to the highly sophisticated location devices on board the modern Malaysia Airlines jet…
    TIME Iran

    Plane Carrying U.S. Military Personnel Forced to Land in Iran

    The State Department says the landing was the result of a "bureaucratic issue"

    A charter plane carrying U.S. and allied military forces from Iraq to Dubai landed unexpectedly in Iran on Friday because of a “bureaucratic issue,” according to a senior State Department official.

    “Contrary to press reports, this plane was not forced down by the Iranian military,” the official said. “The issue appears to have been resolved and hopefully the plane will be able to take off soon.”

    The plane was carrying 100 Americans when Iranian military planes forced it to land in the Iranian city of Bandar Abbas, the Washington Post reports. Bandar Abbas is about a 40-minute flight from the plane’s original destination.

    –Additional reporting by Zeke J Miller

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