NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- If you're just planning your holiday travel now, we're guessing you're using a few choice words that aren't "holly" or "jolly" to describe the experience.
Just a few days until Thanksgiving and a month and a half removed from Christmas, we feel pretty confident in saying that if you're just starting to price out holiday shopping, you're not finding deals. None. Anywhere.
You say United just offered a winter fare sale? Yeah, but the holidays are blacked out. You're just waiting for that great, last-minute Thanksgiving deal? In the words of FareCompare Chief Executive Rick Seaney, "You waited too long."
You have only a few options available now, and they all fall somewhere on the scale between "bad" and "worse." Even airfare alerts won't help you this close to the holidays. We can't point you toward deals or even suggest discounts. With the help of the folks at FareCompare and SmarterTravel TRIP , though, we can provide a handful of tips that will deaden the pain a bit and get you through your holiday travel without going into hock:
Take the hit on Thanksgiving
We're not the ones who have to break your family's heart because you were too lazy or stingy to get tickets earlier. Seaney recommends buying tickets as soon as possible, as prices only go up with each passing day.
If you have frequent-flier miles to use, now is the time. There are going to be last-minute redemption fees, but would your rather pay full price? Also, consider flying Thanksgiving Day. You'll miss the parade unless you're on a flight with DirecTV DTV , but not getting to mock Matt Lauer is the price you pay for your sloth. Meanwhile, you'll be flying on one of the least popular days on the airline calendar and make it home in time for turkey and stuffing.
Forget your regular destination airport
Oh, what, you've never flown to mom's house in New Jersey without going straight to Newark? Get over it.
Folks in the New York metro area have three major airports to choose from, but around this time of year none are particularly good options. New Yorkers may want to consider flights into Newburgh, N.Y., Philly or Hartford. Heading home to Seattle this season? Try Portland, Ore., or Vancouver. Want to get back to Chicago but don't want to deal with Midway or O'Hare? Join the Notre Dame fans in South Bend, Ind., or the Cheeseheads in Milwaukee.
It'll cost you an hour or two in driving, but could save you as much as $100 if you pick the right routes.
Red-eye and connecting flights are a passenger's friends this time of year. By comparing routes you could save $100 or more by selecting a less-convenient but more frugal connecting flight.
We will warn, however, that layover locations are all-important during winter travel. Saving $150 on a flight by making a connection means little when you're snowed in somewhere in the Midwest and losing a travel day in the process. Seek warm-weather connections and cross your fingers.
You just cost yourself a whole lot of comfort by waiting this long. Don't making things harder on yourself by getting greedy.
You want to save cash? Pack light. Now is the time to start thinking about shopping for holiday gifts online and having them shipped directly to your destination. The overwhelming majority of airlines charge baggage fees, and you're paying for every piece of luggage you send behind the counter. Pack only what you absolutely need in a carry-on and prepare to do some laundry. On a flight with multiple connections, you can save as much as $70 each way.
Also consider just how much this visit means to you. If it means enough to extend your stay, consider flying Dec. 18 or earlier. We realize that's a bit far ahead, but airline surcharges and peak travel days only make it tougher from that point on. Otherwise, you're flying in on Christmas Day and not leaving until Dec. 29 or 31. According to Priceline PCLN , those are the best days for pricing and availability, and even that's not saying much.
Seaney and SmarterTravel's Ed Perkins recommend travel packages as a way around onerous winter holiday pricing.
Perkins notes that most big airlines and big online travel agencies bundle packages that often cost less than arranging the individual parts on your own. Back in September, Perkins found that an air-rental car package on Allegiant from Eugene, Ore., to Honolulu for the holiday week tacked on only $372 more than airfare for a one-week car rental, compared with the best car-only deal available on Expedia EXPE for more than $600.
We can't promise you'll save a whole lot on airfare, but at least you'll get a cheap ride or room for your trouble.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.
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