Save on holiday travel with these steps

If it took autumn’s amber and crimson leaves to make you think about flying home for the holidays, you’ve nearly waited too long.

According to travel experts, peak travel dates for Thanksgiving are either sold out or are already very high. Christmas travel is more reasonable, but not for much longer. Alas, you don’t have to settle for a box of Captain Crunch cereal instead of mom’s turkey and dressing. While the average domestic flight out of Atlanta in the first quarter of 2010 was $355.65, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there are still ways to save on holiday travel.

Three travel gurus — Anne Banas executive editor of SmarterTravel.com; Terry Brennan, president of Williamsburg Travel Management, based in Atlanta; and Bob Diener, co-founder of getaroom.com, offer these tips:

Enjoy alternative travel: “Cruise lines, resorts and hotels have plenty of space at great prices,” said Brennan. “Usually the Caribbean bookings sellout a year in advance; not last year and not this year. There’s plenty of space at great rates.”

Have flexible dates: Book travel on the actual holiday and return on a Tuesday instead of Sunday to save as much as $200. “If you’re having trouble finding a decent fare, pull out all stops and look into alternative airports at both your departure and arrival cities,” Banas said. For Christmas and New Year’s, airlines “are likely to launch sales in the next several weeks,” she said. But start looking now  so you’ll know a good rate when you see it. Then grab it.

Ship packages: Since airlines typically charge for extra bags, it may make sense to mail packages rather than pay additional fees to carry them. Also, according to FareCompare.com, peak travel day surcharges (Nov. 28-29) are $30 for major airlines.

Get on the phone: Inevitably, weather and other factors impact flights. Rather than standing in line, call the airline and make any necessary arrangements. “They’re all using the same computer system,” Diener said. “You’ll get the last seat on another flight, instead of missing out because you’re standing in line.”

Bargain: Hotels often have rooms 25 percent cheaper than advertised. Ask about their unpublished rates, and for a free upgraded room when you arrive. The same goes for upgrades on rental cars.

Time matters: Overnight flights and departures at 6 a.m., after lunch or after dinner are generally cheapest. To book the lowest fares, look on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Question: Are you planning any holiday travel this year? Have you already made travel arrangements?

Follow me on Twitter @atlbargains or on Facebook at AJC Atlanta Bargain Hunter

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