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Traveler's Aid: Holiday Travel Survival Guide, Part I: Flying Tips (10/11/2002)

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Well, the holiday travel season is fast approaching -- and, yes, we know it's not even Halloween yet. But if you're planning to fly this season, now's the time to start thinking about flight reservations. Sure, it's tempting to procrastinate, and hunting for fares online and calling 800 numbers isn't our idea of a good time, either. Frankly, booking a plane ticket can be maddening.

To find out how strange it can be, we check in with our production assistant, Amir. Since he wants to fly from LA to New York over Thanksgiving, he called the major airlines looking for a cheap ticket -- then he checked their Web sites. Did he find a good deal?

Well, in almost all cases, the fares on the airlines' Web sites were cheaper than the prices he got over the phone. He also found that if he varied his departure time by an hour, he could save a couple hundred bucks. Then, he found that the cheapest fare he could find was not on any airline -- it was on Greyhound.

See? This is what holiday travel can do to you: drive you to the edge of madness. That's why today we're launching a special series to help get you through the holiday season: The Holiday Travel Survival Guide

So, we ask our Travel-Expert-in-Residence, Rudy Maxa, for tips on booking holiday flights. Rudy says we should book flights now because the airlines have cut capacity by 11 percent, and more people will be traveling this year due to pent-up demand. In short: planes will fill up fast. So, if you have to be some place at a certain time, book now. On the other hand, if you have some flexibility in your travel plans, you can wait a little longer and try to snag a last-minute deal.

Here's what else Rudy says we should we keep in mind:

  • When booking, let the agent know exactly what your needs are.
  • Use alternate airports.
  • Try to travel a couple days before the holiday -- not the day before.
  • Don't book online on the weekend. Weekend fare increases may not stick.
  • Don't bring wrapped presents to the airport.
  • Don't forget about the new fees:
    Nonrefundable tickets -- use it or lose it
    Standby fees -- miss your flight, pay $100

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