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The easiest way to save on holiday airfare (that most people just ignore)

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If you’re like most folks, the last thing on your mind is Thanksgiving. This could be a big mistake, especially if you or someone you love will be traveling.

Last year, about four million crowded the nation’s airports between the Wednesday before Turkey Day to the Sunday after, and that doesn’t include the many more who flew earlier and later, but you get the idea: Thanksgiving, which falls on Nov. 23 this year, is when people want to fly.

And when people want to fly, airlines jack up the prices.

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The most popular days to fly at Thanksgiving — i.e., Wednesday, Nov. 22 and Sunday, Nov. 26. — are also the most expensive days to fly, and not just in November: These are typically the two most expensive days to fly all year. And for some, there’s no way around it. College kids, for instance, ususally only a few days off around Thanksgiving. And for lots of office workers, a two-day holiday on Thursday and Friday makes the Wednesday/Sunday trip the lengthiest possible option.

What can travelers do?

Buy now. Anyone who must depart Wednesday and return Sunday should shop for and buy plane tickets as soon as possible. Fares for this particular itinerary are rising every single day, from now until Thanksgiving. Not by much; only $.50 to $.75 a day on average. But those prices increase come September to about $1.50 a day, and $2.50 per day by October. Add it up, and by the time you think, “Oh, right! I’ve got to get those tickets,” you’re already paying $200 more than you should be. Maybe even more!

If don’t plan to fly Wednesday/Saturday, you can wait a couple more weeks before the price rise begins, but once September rolls around, you too should buy your Thanksgiving tickets.

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Are there other ways to cut costs?

Fly on Thanksgiving Day. It’s almost always the cheapest day to fly during the entire holiday travel period (and if you will be flying at Christmas, same deal, fly on the 25th). If you fly early enough on the big day, you won’t miss a moment of the festivities.

Fly from a bigger airport. If you live close to a small to mid-size airport, but near enough to a big hub to drive there, compare airfares from both airports. Generally speaking, the bigger the airport, the cheaper the tickets.

Compare nonstops with connecting flights. Just like it’s not very convenient to drive to a bigger airport, it’s not very convenient to take a connecting flight when nonstops are available. But compare prices for both; the connection is often (though not always) cheaper than the more convenient nonstop.

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Rick Seaney is an airline travel expert and the co-founder of FareCompare.com, an airfare comparison shopping site

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