Should you book Thanksgiving travel now? Here’s what we found



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Editor’s note: The team at The Points Guy loves to travel, but now is not the time for unnecessary trips. Health officials note that the fastest way to return to normalcy is to stop coming in contact with others. That includes ceasing travel. We are publishing some travel tips because we should all use this time to think about and plan our next adventures. TPG doesn’t advise booking travel until later this year — and even then, be mindful of cancellation policies.

At TPG, we encourage travelers to use points and miles — and flight deals — to plan their dream trips. On a typical day, we would be writing about deals for a getaway to Cancun or for Memorial Day travel to Miami. But these are not normal days.

For the time being, we at TPG have stopped traveling to slow the spread of coronavirus, but we haven’t stopped thinking about future travels and how to plan for those trips. If you’re considering travel later in the year, you may want to start with a long weekend instead of a two-week excursion.  In fact, you may just want to get home to the family you haven’t seen in months. 

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It’s important to note that the COVID-19 pandemic is still evolving in the U.S. and around the world. Many airlines have put flexible change and cancellation policies in place, while hotels have extended reward nights and relaxed their change and cancellation policies. It’s also a good time to use points you’ve stashed for hotels that would cost a fortune if you paid in cash. 

We checked, and all of the remaining holidays in 2020 fall on weekend dates (except Thanksgiving day of course). Prices differ depending on whether you’re traveling to Europe or within the U.S.

Domestic flights in the U.S. are usually sky-high during the holiday season, but flying to Europe around Thanksgiving or even at Christmas can be pretty affordable. And if you plan to use points, many European airlines consider Thanksgiving (and most of November) as off-peak dates, meaning you may be able to score a solid deal.

Related: New to TPG? Read our Beginner’s Guide

What’s a good deal?

Many readers ask TPG what we consider to be a “good” cash deal in economy. Here’s a summary:

  • Transcontinental — under $200 round-trip
  • U.S. to Hawaii — under $250 from the West Coast, under $400-450 from the East Coast
  • U.S. to Mexico/Caribbean — under $250 round-trip
  • U.S. to Europe — under $400 round-trip
  • U.S. to Northern South America – under $400 round-trip
  • U.S. to Southern South America – under $450 round-trip
  • U.S. to Asia – under $500-$550 round-trip
  • U.S. to Australia – under $600 round-trip
  • U.S. to Africa – under $600 round-trip

Of course, a flight to Europe from Fargo, North Dakota, (FAR) typically won’t cost less than $400. On the other hand, it’s not uncommon to see flights to Europe for under $350 from major hubs like New York-JFK or Newark (EWR). 

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How to find a good deal

Set price alerts on routes you’re interested in to monitor the changes and to get an idea of what the average price is. You can do this through Google Flights, which will automatically alert you via email whenever there’s a price change. Its search engine is also good about letting you know whether or not a ticket is a good deal based on data it has collected. 

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Related: 20 popular routes to the Caribbean available for under $100 in late 2020

Should I book a Thanksgiving trip now?

The rule of thumb for booking travel varies from holiday to holiday, but given the massive dips in airfare because of the coronavirus outbreak, we decided to take a look at flight pricing for one of the busiest travel times of the year — Thanksgiving week.

Normally, we advise against booking travel this far in advance but nothing is normal anymore.

In our recent search for fares to Europe from the U.S., we found a few good cash deals from New York City to Europe. For instance, you could get a flight from Newark (EWR) to Paris (ORY) on French Bee for $240 round-trip, nonstop.

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However, we’re also seeing flights from Atlanta (ATL) to Zurich (ZRH) for a whopping $1,200 in economy. It’s not much better from Houston (IAH), with fares to Nice (NCE) hovering around $1,150. When prices are this high, you’re going to want to use points and miles to pay for your flight and hotel stay.

When I’m looking for flights, I start by searching Delta’s SkyMiles flash sale page. Delta typically doesn’t publish these sales, but if you check at least once a week, you can score some sweet deals around the U.S., Europe and the Caribbean.

If you’re looking for a warm-weather vacation, you won’t find better pricing either. Typically, you can snag a low fare from Los Angeles (LAX) to vacation hot spots like Cancun (CUN) for less than $250. During Thanksgiving week, however, these flights will run you more than $1,000 nonstop and a crazy $500 for a non-direct flight. Those high cash prices are the standard across the rest of the country.

Despite an overall drop in flight pricing right now, travel data suggests that you might be better off waiting to book for Thanksgiving. Last year, Expedia found that the cheapest time to buy Thanksgiving tickets was between Oct. 29 and Nov. 13. and that still seems to be accurate, based on our searches.

You may, however, be able to find some good award availability now. For instance, you can currently book a round-trip, nonstop ticket from Boston (BOS) to Bermuda (BDA) for just 14,000 SkyMiles. (What Bostonian would complain about trading in November in New England for November on a beach in Bermuda?)

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If it’s relaxation you’re after, we’re seeing round-trip deals from Boston (BOS) to Miami (MIA) for just 24,500 Delta SkyMiles plus $11.50 in taxes. You can transfer Amex points to Delta at a 1:1 ratio, or open one of several Delta Amex cards with sizable welcome bonuses, including: 

  • Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
  • Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card
  • Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
  • Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card
  • Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card
  • Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card
  • Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card

But you’re likely to get better value if you’re searching for flights to Europe. We’re seeing deals for Thanksgiving dates to Paris (CDG) nonstop from New York-JFK for just 26,000 SkyMiles, plus $85, round-trip.

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If you’re coming from the West Coast, there are also some great deals out of Los Angeles (LAX). We’re seeing flights to Paris from 34,000 miles plus $85 in the main cabin.

If you’re the parent of a college student, you might want to start looking at cheap ways to get them home for the holidays. One of my favorite uses of points is Virgin Atlantic Flying Club for Delta domestic flights.

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You can book domestic Delta economy segments for 12,500 miles or domestic first-class segments for 22,500 miles, booked on Virgin Atlantic’s website.

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You’ll see the same flight in the two screenshots above, one from Delta and the other from Virgin. The Delta flight starts at 11,000 SkyMiles one-way, but if you look closer you’ll see that it’s in basic economy. The flight booked through Virgin starts at 12,500 miles in Main Cabin. There’s also a difference in economy pricing, so if you’re looking for domestic flights on Delta, you may want to start with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.

What about hotels?

Because of the pandemic, hotels around the world are shut down and the hospitality business is suffering. In past years, Thanksgiving has been a good time to travel internationally. We did a few spot checks to see about prices for this November:

For instance, if you want to spend the week with family in Lima, Peru, you could stay at the Hyatt Centric San Isidro Lima for just 12,000 World of Hyatt points or $153 a night. Don’t forget that you can transfer Ultimate Rewards from your Chase Sapphire Preferred® at a 1:1 ratio, opening up some awesome redemptions. 

Bermuda isn’t known for affordable accommodations. There aren’t any Marriott, Hilton or Hyatt hotels on the island. Instead, you’ll find a mix of luxury resorts, boutique hotels and Airbnb accommodations. If you have a card like the Platinum Card® from American Express (see rates and fees), you can use Amex’s Fine Hotels & Resorts benefit to book the beautiful Rosewood Bermuda and earn 5x Membership Rewards points on the five-star booking. You’ll get daily complimentary breakfast for two, a room upgrade subject to availability, early check-in and late checkout and a $100 property credit. The Rosewood will run you $625 a night, so leveraging your Amex points can lead to some serious savings. 

If you’re not a Platinum cardholder, you should consider using other earning tactics like the Hotels.com rewards program, cash back through Rakuten on select booking sites, or book an Airbnb through Delta to earn SkyMiles on your stay.

Paris has some great redemption options for November 2020. If you’ve accumulated points from a credit card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you may find more value in transferring them to the World of Hyatt program. Through Hyatt, you can book the stunning Park Hyatt Paris for just 30,000 points a night. If you’re a Hyatt Globalist (or know a Globalist member who can book you their guest of honor), you will enjoy complimentary breakfast, be eligible for an upgrade based on availability and enjoy early check-in and late checkout. 

If you’ve got Hilton Honors points burning a hole in your pocket, consider booking Le Belgrand Hotel Paris Champs Elysees for 47,000 points a night. This could be a lucrative redemption option if you have enough points to book four nights because Hilton offers the fifth night free on award stays. This would ultimately bring the nightly rate down to 37,600 points. You can earn Hilton points on stays and with credit card welcome bonuses, or by pairing your Lyft accounand signing up for Hilton’s dining program. 

Bottom line

Despite record low prices for many flights later this year, we’re not seeing the same low pricing for holiday travel yet. Be sure to set up price alerts on Google Flights for routes you’re interested in. Prices fluctuate constantly. However, if you have points and miles to burn, then it’s worth taking the time to look at award availability. Airlines and hotels around the world have some of the most flexible cancellation policies ever right now, so you might want to think ahead to November travel bookings. Just be sure to read the fine print for cancellation policies and know that the coronavirus situation is ever-changing.

Additional resources for traveling during the coronavirus outbreak:

  • How coronavirus is impacting airline award availability
  • How coronavirus has left the travel industry reeling
  • Airlines scale back inflight offerings due to coronavirus
  • How to ward off coronavirus in your hotel room
  • Guide to traveling during the coronavirus outbreak

Featured image courtesy of Zach Honig /The Points Guy

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