Scrambling to make last-minute travel plans for the holidays at a time when planes are packed with passengers? Consider flying on the actual holiday to avoid the crowds and save money. • "The airplanes are going to be 80 percent full even when it is not a high period and when it's a high period they are going to be 100 percent full," said Terry Regan, owner of Berkeley's Northside Travel. • If you're flying away for the holidays and haven't booked a flight, expect to pay high prices for airfare, provided you can find a seat during one of the busiest travel times of the year. • "Airlines have reduced capacity, so it means fewer seats on the planes," said Jeanenne Tornatore, senior editor at Orbitz.com, a travel website. Also, fares tend to be higher during the holidays than during other times of the year. That's all the more reason to book as early as possible -- ideally, no later than early November for Thanksgiving travel and mid-November for Christmas, she said.

For Thanksgiving, travelers may not be able to find a seat on the day they want to fly. Consider getting a flight on Thanksgiving Day, when more seats will be available and fares will be lower. Plan to return the following Monday or Tuesday instead of Sunday.

"The busiest travel day, the hardest travel day to get reservations on is the Sunday after Thanksgiving. We may be able to find something, but you would be paying full fare, you would not be getting any bargains," Regan said. "The least expensive return would be the Friday after Thanksgiving or the Tuesday after Thanksgiving."


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Airfares can change daily so consider keeping tabs on the changes through websites with fare alert tools, such AirfareWatchdog.com and FareCompare.com.

Be aware that many major airlines tack on surcharges for travel during the holidays.

To see a chart of surcharges for domestic flights charged by several major airlines, go to www.farecompare.com/articles/peak-travel-surcharge-updates. While making your travel plans, check out baggage policies to avoid getting hit with the extra fees charged by some airlines.

If you decide to fly out Thanksgiving Day, get an early morning flight to avoid potential delays that could mess up your arrival plans, especially if you have connecting flights to catch, Tornatore said.

"That's always a great time to travel," said Tornatore, but he added the savings won't be much. The average domestic round-trip airfare based on Orbitz bookings for mid-October for flights departing the Wednesday before Thanksgiving was $403, compared with $388 on Thanksgiving Day.

"You're not going to see that much fluctuation. The prices are pretty high for the most part," she said.

Try to remain flexible when making travel plans when it comes to departure and arrival days. One day can make a big difference in airline prices, which are affected by how full the plane is at a given time.

And in places like the Bay Area, which has three major airports, check out the destination schedules of the carriers. "You may find different fares, depending on what airline you're flying," Tornatore said.

Most airlines have blackout periods for frequent-flier miles over the holidays. "Don't bet on those to get travel over the holidays," she said.

Because it is over a longer period of time, travel over the Christmas holidays is more flexible than Thanksgiving travel.

Arriving on the day or evening of Christmas Eve, along with Christmas Day itself, can provide better options for travel then arriving Dec. 22 or Dec. 23, Tornatore said. Not surprisingly, Dec. 26 is a busy travel day, so consider booking a flight on Dec. 27. New Year's Eve day and New Year's Day are also good options.

Timing, of course, is not the only factor when it comes to holiday travel. Location is just as important.

Everything is popular during the Christmas holidays, but the most difficult is flying to Hawaii, Mexico or India. "These dates have been filled long ago," Regan said. Canada and Caribbean destinations are also popular over Christmas, he said.

"International can also be Europe, and some of the airfares have a peak season, usually the week before Christmas, meaning if you depart at that time, it's a higher fare," he said. "If you depart before, or if you depart Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, you usually get a lower fare to Europe that way."

Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-952-2690.