Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving a Travel Turkey?

The Thanksgiving holiday season begins in earnest today in the United States, where Turkey Day might just be a travel turkey again this year.

Why? Let us count the ways.

1. Crowds. No way to avoid them. Along with Christmas and maybe Fourth of July weekend, this is the busiest leisure travel window of the year in the U.S. Expect crowded airports, long lines at security and everything that goes with that.

2. Crowded planes. The airlines have been cutting back service, flying fewer routes and using smaller planes, since Sept. 11, 2001, and aviation downsizing has continued apace since the start of the Great Recession in 2008.

3. Jammed overhead luggage bins. Smaller planes, combined with a three-year trend for U.S. carriers to charge extra fees for checked bags - Southwest Airlines is a notable exception - means passengers try to carry it all on, quickly filling the limited storage space in the smaller planes. As passengers struggle with luggage, it takes more time to board the plane, creating additional frustration.

4. High costs. Orbitz Worldwide Inc. reports that the average round trip air fare in the U.S. from today through Sunday, 28 November, has risen 11 percent to $373 USD from Thanksgiving last year. For road warriors, gasoline is also up and there will be crowded highways; the American Automobile Association forecasts 4 percent more people will drive to Grandma's place this Thanksgiving than last. Think it gets better at hotels? Nah. According to TravelClick Inc., the average nightly rate for U.S. hotels is 5 percent higher than last year at this time, at $126.35 per night.

What can be done about all this? Not a lot, but you can make incremental improvements, using loyalty points, paying extra for flying premium economy class and trading that SUV for a vehicle that sips, rather than chugs, fuel.

Short of that, well, just perservere. Getting there will not be half the fun, but when the turkey reaches the table at Grandma's, it'll be alright. Hey, it's still Thanksgiving.

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