The Thanksgiving rush isn't just today -- it's been going on for several days now.
That's the assessment of The New York Times: "The long lines and frayed nerves actually started last week, as many penny-pinching travelers booked earlier, and less, expensive, flights. As a result, what used to be a quick holiday trip home is now stretching to a week or more."
I completely agree. Last month, I was fortunate enough to take a long overdue vacation with my wife and two daughters. When we initially planned the trip, it was going to be a mini-vacation of sorts -- a long, four-day weekend, which is all I felt we could afford -- but we wound up leaving Ohio for Florida for a week.
I didn't plan on taking our daughters out of school for four days, nor did I want to miss four days of work. But leaving on a jet plane on a Wednesday and coming back the following Tuesday turned out to be about $800 cheaper than it would have been if we had flown on a Friday and returned on a Monday.
And, yes, even with paying for hotels, meals at restaurants -- I think I still came out ahead or at least even.
Understandable, of course, why travelers have to pay more for weekend travel, or travel near the weekends. Those are peak traveling days, and thanks to the whole supply and demand concept, if you're going to travel on those days, you're going to pay for it.
But people are on tighter budgets than usual, and so airports and airplanes are finding that the peak traveling days are -- well, it's getting difficult to distinguish a Tuesday from a Friday.
In fact, if anything, this Friday, Black Friday, is going to be one of the lesser traveled days. That's the prediction that Rick Seaney of FareCompare.com offered to the Detroit Free-Press.
Seaney, who has been busy with interviews this week, also told The New York Times that two years ago, travelers watching their bank accounts were OK with spending up to $375 on a round-trip ticket. This year, $240 has been about as high as people have been willing to pay.
Expensive airfare is changing how people are traveling in other ways, too -- as in, plenty of folks are ditching the plane for alternative transportation.
The Associated Press recently ran a story about a Syracuse, N.Y. family of five paying for train tickets to Omaha, Neb., that cost them $800 -- because plane tickets would have totaled $2,500. Yikes. I'm thinking, frankly, that they didn't look around enough. Then again, maybe they decided it wasn't worth their time to look around. As the family told the AP, they saw traveling on a train as an adventure and a pleasant way to see the country.
Which is how I'm seeing the high cost of air travel: that there is a bright side to all of this. Yes, the cost of traveling by plane is discouraging -- fees for checked bags, taxes on tickets, the airport parking, the ridiculous prices at the restaurants in airports -- but if it's obliging us to spend more time with our family during the holidays, and pressing us to actually take longer vacations... well, that's not a bad thing. Not a bad thing at all.
Geoff Williams is a frequent contributor to WalletPop. He is also the co-author of the upcoming book, "Living Well with Bad Credit."
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