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Navigating holiday airfare sales

Fares are up and seats will be harder to come by this year.

By Karen Datko Sep 24, 2010 3:45PM

This Deal of the Daycomes fromKelli B. Grantat partner site SmartMoney.

 

It's time to start your holiday shopping -- for airfare, at least.

 

Last year, would-be travelers had the luxury to buy at the last minute, with airlines slashing ticket prices until the week before Christmas to fill empty seats. Not this year. Fewer planes flying and higher demand mean that to get the best sales, holiday fliers will need to book in October. Post continues after video.

"To the early bird goes the fare sale," says Gabe Saglie, senior editor for deal site Travelzoo. "Airlines are keeping (prices and inventory) tight, keeping it competitive."

 

Fares have already started dropping for the holiday season. AirTran is offering one-way flights from Boston to Baltimore for as low as $59 through Jan. 26, with seats still available on holiday flights. On other carriers, Christmas fares are expected to start dropping by early October, says David Lindheimer, director of product management at Bing Travel at Microsoft. (Microsoft publishes MSN Money.) But that might be it for the season, analysts warn. Unlike years past, they expect few deals left -- or new sales -- in December.

 

Last-minute fare reductions have gone the way of free pillows and blankets in part because airlines have continued the pared-down schedules that kept flights full last year, despite an increase in demand. As it is, fares for Thanksgiving have already increased 10% over last year, to $384 on average, according to booking site Travelocity. And for those who want to fly out on Tuesday and return on Sunday, tickets for peak days could cost as much as $555, plus baggage fees, premium seat charges, and an extra $7 for that pillow and blanket.

 

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