In the Suitcase: Last-minute travel

Jon and I are in the process of moving to Baltimore, which means that our current place in DC is a mess, our new place in Baltimore is a mess, and then there’s turkey to be had in Chicago. So, after several late-nights of painting, cleaning, packing and panicking, we sadly decided to skip the roadtrip to Chicago and leave me behind to do more of the painting, cleaning, packing but without the panicking while Jon goes back to visit with his family. So, after some savvy Internet hunting, I stuck Jon on a Southwest flight to Milwaukee (hour drive from his parents’ place) and departure out of Midway, for $340.

It’s a little higher than we’d ordinarily spend for travel to Chicago, but it is a far difference from the $450 ticket I paid in 1994 from St. Louis to New York one Thanksgiving, because I didn’t book far enough in advance. Yes, that’s 15 years ago. Airline tickets haven’t increased a whole lot since I was jetting back and forth around college, but it is more difficult to fly, and I used to get away with bringing four carry-ons and all my liquids.

So, if you’re still wistfully thinking of visiting family or friends, it’s not too late. There is a “cornucopia” of options! (forgive my themed reference)

1. Check all the search engines, not just one. Kayak has a lot of options, but it doesn’t display Southwest flights. Check Southwest separately.

2. Be open to obscure airports (like Milwaukee). Think like a driver in Los Angeles (i.e. it could take an hour to drive 10 blocks). In holiday traffic, driving from O’Hare could take even longer than driving from Milwaukee, so it wouldn’t be so bad to choose another airport.

3. Try various one-way options. We booked a one-way from Baltimore to Milwaukee, then out of Midway back to Baltimore by buying two separate tickets. You can also try different airlines. Shop around, but don’t linger too long because the flights will continue to rise quickly.

4. If you’re willing to fly on Thanksgiving, do that and plan to arrive before the dinner starts. Also departing on Saturday instead of Sunday reduces your fare. Yes, you miss a day of visiting, but it’s better than not visiting at all, which was your original plan until now.

5. Be willing to wake up at the crack of dawn to catch that 6:30am flight. It’s annoying, but it’s less expensive, and you’ll make up the lost sleep during the flight anyway.

5. Consider Priceline. You set a price limit and bid on a mystery flight. Be aware that you won’t know your travel times until after you purchase your ticket, and they set the hours between 6am to 10pm. If you are traveling on Thanksgiving day, know that Priceline might send you on a flight during dinner time and you’ll miss everything.

5. Save money on peripherals: Take public transportation to/ from airport. It’s cheaper, it bypasses traffic, and you won’t spend extra dollars on parking. Pack light (avoid baggage fees) and don’t eat anything, so you’ll be ready for the feast!

Happy Thanksgiving and safe travels!

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