Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel days of the year. The statement might seem odd at first if you equate “travel” with flying. However, the majority of people travelling over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house are most likely to do so by car on the day of the holiday. When the last piece of pie has been eaten, AAA estimates that 46.9 million Americans will have travelled to be with family and friends. The majority will travel during the holiday period between Wednesday and Sunday. That number represents an increase over the previous year and is expected to either remain the same or increase again this year. Driving is often the preferred method for destinations 300 miles or less. It’s more economical as a family of four to pay for gas rather than airline tickets. However, let’s say your relatives live in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina which is just under 600 miles south. The average airline ticket from NYC during a non-holiday period currently costs approximately $193.00 per person. For a family of 4 your total travel cost is a reasonable $772.00. Let’s look at the same airline, same flights for November 23 returning November 28, 2016. The rate is $462.00 per person at the time I am writing this. Multiply $462.00 by 4 passengers and you are at a whopping total of $1848.00. That number is pre seat assignment cost and paid checked luggage. This local family would need to depart their home 4 hours prior to flight time to drive to the airport. Once there, they need to locate a parking space, check their luggage, be cleared for travel by airport security and still arrive at the departure gate on time. If they lift off as scheduled for the hour and 45 minute flight, you’re looking at a total time investment of almost 6 hours. If the same family packed the SUV, loaded the kiddies and hit the road, their drive time would be between 9 to 10 hours. The extra 4 hours in each direction could yield a savings of at least $1076. That hefty total might be enough to tempt many to drive. Some distances are just too great to attempt with a young family. Despite the hefty costs, longer distances are often best accomplished by flying. This mode requires much more preparation if you wish to get the dates, times and the rates you want. When planning to reserve a holiday period flight, it is best to devise a plan that focuses on organization, a willingness to get in the game and commitment to a strategy. This is the travel industry’s Super Bowl and the best prepared team is usually successful.
It can be a challenge to find reasonably priced fares. Especially on flights from the local airports that will allow you to work a full day and yet make it in time for pre-dinner festivities. Here are my suggestions:
- Avoid connecting flights during any holiday even if it saves $100.00 or more. The money you save won’t be worth it if you find yourself stranded in Chicago due to a missed connection. I suppose you could use the $100.00 you saved to buy snacks and beverages while you wait for your next flight.
- Pack the car and fill your gas tank the night before departure. This will eliminate the extra time spent double checking the house for anything left behind. You also avoid an additional 15 minutes of anxiety if you have to wait in longer than normal lines for the fuel pumps.
- If your drive to the airport takes 2 hours, you should allow 3 hours to make the same drive in case you get stuck in holiday traffic.
- Increase the regular 2 hour check in time at the airport for domestic flights to 3 hours. For international flights increase your arrival at the airport from 3 to 4 hours prior. It’s amateur time, baby, and the airports will be filled with novices unaccustomed to packing correctly to ensure an expedient check in. It’s likely that security lines will move slower than normal.
- Pack your own snacks in case of delays and to save money. Fortunately, airport food is getting better but the higher prices reflect not only the increase in quality but also the convenience.
Perhaps the stress of the airport or the cost of the flights has you thinking about driving to be with your family in Raleigh-Durham. Departing from Dutchess County you would drive approximately 600 miles in each direction. If your car averaged 30 miles per gallon highway driving, you might expect to use 40 gallons of fuel. The cost of gas in the local area is an average 2.39 per gallon and will decrease as you drive South, eventually dropping to an average of $2.20. If I use only the New York pricing we can expect that your total travel cost should be under $100.00. That number doesn’t include the snacks purchased during rest area stops.
Opting to drive allows you to set your own schedule. You determine your own departure and arrival times. It is also a premium opportunity to encourage family bonding. Trivia games, singing with the radio or playing an old fashioned round of “I Spy” (I spy something red with 8 sides = a stop sign) are fun ways to pass the time. I also spy a good chance to sneak in a geography lesson. Parents could prepare trivia information for each state they’ll pass through to teach the kids or grandkids about state capitols, and historic landmarks. The names of local sport teams might spark enthusiasm as you wind your way down or across the states. This is memory making at its best and NO headsets allowed. Talk about how they are related to the people they will be meeting. Sneak in a good manners lesson about how to greet people. Explain what a “Kid’s table” is. Pack pillows and blankets for mid trip naps. Bring sandwiches, snacks and beverages to keep costs and stops along the way to a minimum. Bathroom and refueling breaks will be necessary and you don’t want anyone to be tempted by expensive sugary treats and snacks available for sale.
This might seem like a lot of effort and it will be but it will be worth it. Of all the suggestions I offer above, the best advice is this: remember to be grateful for the bounty that is your family.