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Originally published Saturday, October 6, 2012 at 7:00 PM

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How to find deals on airfare this holiday season

CheapAir.com chief executive Jeff Klee shares tips for flying cheaply during the holidays.

The New York Times

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With oil prices rising and flight capacities shrinking, airlines are charging more and more for tickets every year.

Fares around the holidays are no exception, said Jeff Klee, the chief executive of CheapAir.com.

"For Thanksgiving, right now, fares are an average $24 higher than they were last year," Klee said.

Not exactly holiday cheer. But, he added, there are ways to find deals and avoid undue expenses.

Below are edited excerpts from a conversation with Klee about how to fly cheaply this holiday season.

Q: What's the best way to save on airfare during the holidays?

A: Avoid flying on peak travel days. The single biggest factor in determining the price of a ticket is how full the flight is. That Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after are two of the busiest travel dates of the year, so almost every flight will be close to full, and fares will be much higher. If you travel Tuesday to Saturday over Thanksgiving, you can save an average of $70 per round-trip ticket, and an average of $113 if you go Monday to Friday. It's a big difference.

Q: How far in advance should you buy tickets?

A: Generally, six weeks in advance for domestic flights and eight for international flights. But around the holidays, we recommend at least eight weeks. That's the time when airlines get more aggressive with discounts to fill however many seats are left, so you don't want to book too early.

Q: How do you find airfare sales?

A: Wednesday is a good day to check for airfares because a lot of airlines start sales on Tuesday that last for 24 to 48 hours, and then other airlines will match their prices.

Over the past couple of years, the window for airline sales has gotten much smaller. It used to be seven to 10 days, but more and more airlines are having 24-hour or 48-hour sales. Fares change so often now that you could see a great fare, talk it over with your family that night, and the next day it's gone. That's why you should discuss your itinerary with your family beforehand. As soon as you know your travel dates, start checking flights on a regular basis, at least weekly, so when you see a sale, you can grab it. Many sites let you track the cities you're interested in and get emails every time the fare goes up or down. AirFareWatchdog.com does a great job of sorting through deals on a daily basis and sending you alerts.

Q: Any tips for families to keep in mind?

A: Pay attention to fees. This year, a lot of airlines have begun charging extra, anywhere from $5 to $50, for premium seats. Now you look at some flights, and almost every window or aisle seat is considered a "premium seat." It can be really hard for a family of four to get seats together without paying extra, so keep that in mind when totaling the cost of your trip.

Also, check the fine print of each airline's fee policy. Spirit Airlines, which has some great fares but a lot of fees, charges you for carry-on bags in addition to checked-in luggage. And these fees depend on when you pay for them. Starting Nov. 6, Spirit will charge you $35 for a carry-on bag if you pay for it when you book your flight, but it's $100 to pay for it at the gate. Imagine a family of four getting to the gate with four carry-ons and having to pay $400. These fees make a really big difference, so you want to make sure you get them right.

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