Procrastinators were rewarded last year when they finally got around to booking flights for holiday travel. Back then, airlines were not prepared for the sharp falloff in travel and offered last-minute deals to fill up empty planes.
This year? Dilly-dallying, even waiting just a few days, could carry a steep price tag.
Fares, though still lower now than at this time last year, are rising with each passing day, a trajectory that began more than a month ago.
In the last week alone, overall fares for Thanksgiving travel rose 6 percent, according to Bing Travel, part of Microsoft’s search engine. Ticket prices for the most popular itinerary, departing Wednesday, Nov. 25, and returning Sunday, Nov. 29, are up 10 percent in the last week.
In recent weeks, some flights have risen even more. From New York, a round-trip American Airlines flight to Chicago that cost $354 on Sept. 14 was $540 on Thursday, a 52 percent jump, according to Yapta.com, which tracks fares.
A JetBlue flight to Orlando that was $524 on Sept. 24 was $614 on Thursday, and a Continental flight from Newark to San Francisco that was $504 on Sept. 18 was $770.
That does not count all the extra fees — some added just for holiday travel days — that airlines are charging this year. The professional crystal-ball gazers on fares agree fliers should not wait to book their tickets.
“Travelers should be shopping now,” said Joel Grus, who tracks airfares at Bing Travel. “If a price seems good to them, they should get it.” “Bottom line,” said Rick Seaney, chief executive of Farecompare.com, in his online Holiday Travel Guide, “holiday travel procrastinators do so at their own peril this year, and practical travelers should be shopping now and buying before the end of October.”
Anne Eddy is kicking herself for waiting. In August, she paid $313 for a round-trip flight from Providence, R.I., to Houston to take her son Duncan to Rice University, where he is a freshman. A week later, she paid $632 — roughly double — to buy him a ticket home for Thanksgiving.
“I felt behind the game,” said Eddy, a health care administrator from Needham, Mass. Determined to get ahead of it, she immediately booked another flight for him at Christmas. It was $309 round-trip. A recent online search showed that if she had waited any longer for the Thanksgiving reservation, she might have had to pay more than $800 — if she could get a seat at all.