Thanksgiving Day itself is becoming an increasingly popular day for air travel as more Americans dodge the worst of holiday crowds and attempt to save money.
An analysis of holiday travel by consultant Sabre Airline Solutions for USA TODAY shows that airline bookings on Thursday this week total 66% of the daily average for the seven days ended Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving Day travel a year ago was 63% of the daily average for the preceding week.
Sabre analyzed domestic, advance-sale round-trip tickets bought through its massive reservation system for the Thanksgiving season travel.
Booking levels are higher than "what we've traditionally seen," says Sabre's Steve Hendrickson.
United and Northwest airlines are seeing a year-over-year increase in travel on Thanksgiving Day. Northwest spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch attributes the increase to Northwest's holiday fare sale, the first in two years. Northwest discounted Thanksgiving Day fares to the lowest level available in about a year, he said.
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is traditionally the heaviest departure day for holiday travelers. This year, travelers have particularly strong motivation to avoid that day.
*Fares. They've been soaring. Airlines over the past year have been ratcheting up fares in a series of industrywide increases.
According to Sabre, the cost of the average fare for Thanksgiving Day travel is $141, or $36 less than the average for air travel on Wednesday this week.
The average Thanksgiving Day fare is about $20 less than the average fare over the seven-day period ending on the holiday.
Travelers are increasingly happy to take advantage of Thanksgiving Day discounts, says Terry McCabe, who heads national leisure sales for Altour, a travel agency with 19 locations.
"If people can save a decent amount of money, they'll adjust their patterns and fly on Thanksgiving," she says. "In the United States, you can get anywhere in time for dinner."
*Crowds. Airlines and federal security officials say when the accounting is done, this will prove to be the busiest Thanksgiving season ever for air travel.
Airports are preparing for long lines. The dip in volume on Thanksgiving Day, though not as deep as in the past, will provide travelers some insulation from the crowds.
American and JetBlue airlines say that Thanksgiving Day bookings look about the same as last year. Both cite Thursday and Friday as their weakest days. That could be good news for people who haven't yet booked.
"Anyone looking to do a quick overnight trip is going to find something affordable," says Jenny Dervin, a JetBlue spokeswoman. A gaggle of fliers
Domestic air travel bookings for Thursday as a percentage of average daily bookings for the seven-day period ending Thanksgiving.
Source: Sabre Airline Solutions
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