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Travelers face extra challenges this holiday season

November 2, 2008

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If you think you have extra time to make your holiday travel plans because the turbulent economy will keep more people home this year, think again.

Most travel experts I talked with say that despite the uncertain times, people still like to go home for the holidays. "People will borrow money to visit relatives during the holidays," said Tony Maupin, owner of Maupin Travel in Raleigh, N.C.

However, there will likely still be less congestion at airports - because there will fewer seats to accommodate travelers.

This winter, U.S. airlines will experience worse-than-expected capacity declines as they fight to cut costs and offset fuel costs, according to a recent report by the OAGback Aviation Solutions.

Domestic airlines will cut the number of available seats by 9 percent, or 21.4 million seats, during the fourth quarter, according to the report. It will also reduce the number of flights by 265,000, or 59 percent of the global market.

That means that this holiday season there are going to be a lot of would-be travelers out of luck.

"I recommend you get your reservations early," Maupin said. "It's going to be tight. I think you will see some people who may not be able to fly who want to."

People planning trips overseas or to their favorite tropical island won't fare much better.

OAG's latest figures show that the world's airlines will offer 46.3 million fewer seats this winter, and 451,000 fewer flights.

"They may be able to find a good deal on a hotel in the Bahamas, but they may not get a flight there," Maupin said.

If you do plan to fly over the holidays, here are some money-saving tips.

¢ Book your reservation now. There are fewer seats for sale and only a slim chance of last-minute discount tickets.

¢ If possible, be flexible with your travel dates. For example, staying over until Monday or Tuesday may save you hundreds of dollars if you can afford to take time off from work.

¢ Pack your lunch. Most airlines charge for meals, and airport food is usually expensive.

¢ Pack light. Remember that most airlines charge for overweight bags. Check your airline to find out its maximum weight and other baggage restrictions. If you have a lot of gifts, ship them.

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