If your grim financial situation means you have to choose between flying for either Thanksgiving or the December holidays, you may get a better deal flying for Turkey Day.
The national average price for a round-trip domestic flight for Thanksgiving is $420, about the same as a year ago, according to airline ticket data analyzed by the travel booking website Priceline.com. But the national average airfare for the span that includes Christmas and New Year's Eve is up 3 percent, to $444.
If you had booked Thanksgiving reservations in early October, you would have paid an average airfare of $393, while the average December holiday airfare, if booked at that time, was $430, according to Priceline.
But if you waited to book your Thanksgiving flight, you are not alone.
As of Oct. 26, 78 percent of Americans who say they plan to travel for Thanksgiving had yet to make reservations, according to the travel website Hotwire.
Travel experts say such procrastinators may regret waiting so long.
On the busiest travel days around Thanksgiving, the average flight will be 90 percent full, according to Airlines for America, the trade group for the nation's largest airlines.
In contrast, the average flight throughout 2011 was 82 percent full. Empty airline seats are increasingly hard to find as airlines have merged, cut less-profitable routes and consolidated flights on popular routes.
"Flight reductions have reduced the number of available seats and that, coupled with holiday travel demand, is enabling fares to creep upward," said Brian Ek, a travel expert for Priceline. "The good news is that Thanksgiving airfares are back to running about flat with last year so, if you can only travel for one end-of-year holiday, that's probably the one to pick."
U.S. satisfaction falls for airlines, rises for car rental firms
American travelers are increasingly dissatisfied with the nation's airlines, but they seem pretty happy with the country's car rental companies.
For the first nine months of this year, the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics received 12,145 consumer complaints about airline services, up 33.5 percent compared with the first nine months of 2011.
Based on complaints filed to the bureau in September alone, the biggest sources of aggravation for fliers were flight delays, cancellations, problems with baggage, ticketing and reservations and, of course, customer service.
United Airlines had the most complaints in September with 211, followed by American Airlines with 162.
Meanwhile, customer satisfaction with rental car companies has increased for the third consecutive year, according to a study released last week by J.D. Power & Associates. In fact, the satisfaction level -- reaching 769 on a 1,000-point scale -- is the highest in seven years.
The greatest improvement in the satisfaction rating came from the shuttle van or bus service that car rental companies use to transport customers and the daily rates and fees, according to the study.
Another big factor in raising customer satisfaction: a warm smile. The study found that car rental customers give an average rating of 795 when they are greeted at the counter with a smile, while customers who don't get a smile give an average rating of 647.