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7 Little-Known Ways to Save on Last-Minute Thanksgiving Travel

Written by
Samantha Rose
Samantha Rose is a personal finance writer covering financial literacy for OppU. Her work focuses on providing hands-on resources for high school and college-age students in addition to their parents and educators.
Read time: 5 min
Updated on December 20, 2022
young woman wearing headphones sitting next to her luggage sharing 7 little-known ways to save on last-minute Thanksgiving travel
Procrastination happens. Don’t let it cost you.

It’s almost time for Thanksgiving. That means time spent relaxing with loved ones from near and far. And of course, seconds of apple pie.

With all of the holiday logistics, it’s easy to overlook booking travel until the last minute. That’s not great news for your wallet when the best and cheapest tickets are likely already gone.

According to AAA projections for 2019, more than 55 million Americans are expected to travel at least 50 miles for Thanksgiving plans, the highest travel rate since 2005. The forecast also states while the majority of travelers (49.3 million) are going by car, 4.4 million travelers — or 8 percent — are still expected to fly.

So what can you do if you wait until the last minute and the best flights and accommodations are already booked?

Here are your options for purchasing Thanksgiving travel according to five travel pros, with particularly helpful advice for those traveling by air.

No. 1: Choose a strategic date to fly

Kelly Soderlund, travel trends expert at Hipmunk

According to Hipmunk analysis, prices will drop between [October] and Thanksgiving with a sharp upturn in the two weeks before. Set fare alerts to notify you when flight prices are dropping. Fare alerts alone can save you 10%.

Departing on Thanksgiving Day can save you 12% when compared to Wednesday, the most-booked departure date. No matter when you depart, returning on Sunday has the biggest impact on Thanksgiving flight prices — increasing median flight booking price by 32%.

To avoid the crowds, avoid flying Wednesday and Sunday. The majority of travelers fly on Wednesday before Thanksgiving and return on Sunday. In fact, 60% return on Sunday. The least crowded dates are departing Monday and returning Friday, as only 10% of people fly these dates.

No. 2: Opt for a less traveled time to fly

Anna Mills, travel blogger at Adventures with Anna

On the last flight I took, my decision to fly at the crack of dawn saved me almost $200. Flying so early in the morning isn’t always the most fun, but since nobody wants to do it, it’s way cheaper. And honestly, it isn’t that bad. Security and food lines are shorter and faster; there’s a higher chance of an outlet being available to charge your phone; and early morning flights are far less likely to be delayed or cancelled because bad weather tends to happen later in the day.

No. 3: Bookmark a reliable flight finder website

Anna Mills, travel blogger at Adventures with Anna

CheapOair, Google Flights, and Skyscanner are great websites for finding cheap flights. These websites search the [rest of the] web for flights, organize them by filters, and put them all in one place for you. They are all easy to navigate and give high-quality information, so just pick your favorite and roll with it.

CheapOair usually has the cheapest flights of the bunch, but keep in mind that you get what you pay for. Many of the flights you’ll find will charge you extra for checked bags and anything else they can. Do your due diligence and read the fine print to be sure you know what you’re signing up for.

No. 4: Book travel with frequent flyer miles

Patti Reddi, founder and writer at The Savvy Globetrotter

If you collect miles, you can use your miles to book free flights. Airlines frequently release empty seats for award flights a day or two before the flight. I collect miles for all the major airlines that fly in the United States, so chances are good that at least one of them will have an award flight available.

No. 5: Cash in on other people’s losses for flights and hotels

Galena Stavreva, CEO of SpareFare

Many people are still not aware, but travellers can buy flights and hotel rooms from other people who are not able to use theirs.

The idea is simple: If a traveller cannot go on a trip due to an illness or other issue, there are marketplaces where they can sell the prepaid hotel reservation to another traveller who is going to the same place at the same time. The sellers can recoup some of the money they paid for the trips, while buyers get a true discount of up to 50% to 60% off by not paying the current price of the bookings.

This is ideal for last-minute purchases, as this is when the listings on secondary travel marketplaces are the cheapest. The sellers are willing to sell at a very low price; otherwise, they risk not recovering anything.

No. 6: Leave the planning to a travel agent

Shelley Ewing, President and Director of TierOne Travel

Go to a travel agent [since] they could save you the time it would take you to research. They will tell you everything you need to know about your trip, [such as] airline rules, etc. Plus, they will give you some helpful tips on what to see and do at your destination.

No. 7: Consider hidden city ticketing

Patti Reddi, founder and writer at The Savvy Globetrotter

Hidden city ticketing is when you buy a cheaper ticket to another destination but get off in your connecting city and skip the last flight. For example, if you are flying from Vancouver to Chicago it might be cheaper to book a flight from Vancouver to Atlanta with a connection in Chicago, and then skip the Chicago to Atlanta flight.

I would only use this strategy if I had no other options and I was not checking luggage. This is against airline policies, so it is not something that you should do on a regular basis as the airline could shut down your frequent flyer account. I have only personally done this once. Just to be on the safe side do not put in your frequent flyer number in your reservation.

Also this only works if you don't check luggage to your destination, so if the airline gate checks your bag it would be a problem.

You can also only use this if you skip your last flight as your whole flight reservation will be cancelled once you miss your flight. If you want to use this on both legs of your flight, then book your ticket as two one-ways and preferably on different airlines.

Bottom Line

Thanksgiving holiday travel can be expensive, especially when you wait until the last-minute to book tickets. Don’t take a hit to your wallet. Instead take advantage of little-known travel hacks to save money, such as using price trackers and strategic (or creative) ticket purchases.Contributors


Article contributors

Shelley Ewing grew up in the bush in Zambia which gave her a lifelong passion and appreciation for different cultures, nature, and wildlife. She had an amazing childhood watching her family build and run a safari lodge in the Kafue National Park. Since arriving in Calgary in 1980, travel has continued to be a focus for Ewing; from working as a travel consultant to managing a travel agency for 15 years, and then co-owning and operating TierOne Travel since 1994.

Anna Mills is a travel blogger and author with a taste for the finer — and crazier — things in life. Her daily blog Adventures with Anna offers affordable luxury and adventure travel ideas. Mills also writes reviews on hotels, restaurants, travel gadgets, and more. After visiting multiple countries and almost every state in the United States, she released her first book “100 Ways to Make Travel More Affordable.”

Patti Reddi is an avid traveler who has traveled to more than40 countries and all seven continents. With a diverse style ranging from budget to luxury, Patti focuses on how to travel smart. On her travel blog, The Savvy Globetrotter, she provides travel itineraries as well as tips and tricks on everything from traveling on a budget, packing tips, and earning miles and points.

Kelly Soderlund is Hipmunk’s travel trends expert. A trained data journalist, Soderlund has been conducting Hipmunk data analyses since 2015 to help travelers save time and money. Her insights often appear in the New York Times, CNBC, Money, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, and more.

Galena Stavreva is the CEO of — a secure secondary marketplace for flights, hotel rooms and package holidays. Travel is great, and SpareFare’s marketplace is all about turning the less fun parts of it — such as cancellations — into new deals that improve the status quo for everyone.

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