Holiday Traffic and Airfares to Skyrocket

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If you are planning on visiting friends or family during the holiday season, be prepared to pay high prices for long lines at airports and jam-packed planes.

In a statement released by the Air Transport Association yesterday, it was estimated 24 million travelers will fly during the 12-day period surrounding Thanksgiving, with daily passenger volume up 3.5 percent from a year ago.

The recession caused airlines to cut capacity and raise ticket prices, but airlines have no plans to dramatically increase the number of planes flying during the holidays. With fewer flights, seats fill up fast.

"Prices have gone up... it seems pretty substantially compared to last year," said Morningstar equity analyst Basili Alukos to Reuters. "It's just a reflection of lower supply."

Discount airfare websites such as Priceline and Travelocity are averaging roundtrip tickets for Thanksgiving travel around $380, a number that was only higher once in the past eight year-in 2007, airfares averaged $285. For Christmas prices are even higher, with averages around $444.

Prices have gone up and throughout the holidays flights are sure to be packed, especially on high trafficked travel days such as the day before Thanksgiving and Sundays after Thanksgiving and Christmas. The ATA expects average daily load factors to reach 90 percent on the busiest travel days of the year.

Airlines are also increasing ticket prices by tacking on more a la carte fees than ever before. Passengers are being nickel and dimed for services that were previously complimentary, with fees for checked baggage, early boarding, in-flight food and entertainment, and even extra legroom. These fees quickly add up, and should be considered when booking from an airline that seems to come with a cheap price tag.

As if that were not enough, last year several airlines introduced surcharges for traveling on the holidays. According to the airlines, it is a privilege to take to the skies during the holidays; therefore travelers are charged a "premium" fee for flights throughout much of December and the beginning of January. If you fly any day except for on Christmas between December 17th and January 3rd, you could be slapped with a fee anywhere from $10-30. According to a report by USA Today, the days with the highest charges are December 17, 18, 19, 25 and 31, as well as January 1. The airlines that charge the fee are American, Continental, Delta, United and US Airways.

For those who can wait, it may be a good year to push back family vacations into the new year. Around this time, the seats are sure to be emptier and the deals more abundant.

Photo by slitzferrari on Flickr.

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