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It's not too early to book Thanksgiving travel, experts say

David J. Phillip / AP

In this photo from the day before Thanksgiving in 2011, airline passengers check in for their flight at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. During last year's Thanksgiving travel season, AAA predicted 42.5 million Americans would fly, drive or travel on train.

While your barbecue grill hasn't completely cooled off from heavy use this summer, travel experts say it's not too early to book your Thanksgiving travel plans.

The holiday, just 55 days away, falls on Nov. 22 this year and always draws tens of millions of Americans to the nation's airports and roads.

Airfares during the holiday week are slightly higher than last year, FareCompare.com CEO Rick Seaney said in a statement, because airlines assume that demand will be high. Additionally, there have already been a number of domestic airfare hikes this year.


Choosing the right travel days over the holiday week could actually help your wallet. Monday before the holiday (Nov. 19) or Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 22) are the cheapest days to fly, according to FareCompare.com. The travel planning site also says you can save up to 20 percent if you book your return flight for any day other than the Sunday or Monday after Thanksgiving.

George Hobica, CEO of Airfarewatchdog.com, recommends that travelers buy tickets for long-haul routes if a fare is under $400. The same "buy now" advice goes for medium-haul routes under $300 and short-haul routes under $200.

"If you want the flight time you want and the seat you want ... it may be worth to even overpay," Hobica told NBC News.

But there's no need to panic, he added, because fares can still go down for peak Thanksgiving travel. However, if you buy now and find that the exact same flight price goes down in a few weeks, Hobica said some airlines offer a refund of the difference in a travel voucher.

Since discount carriers (think Southwest or Allegiant) are not always searchable on popular online travel sites like Travelocity or Expedia, Hobica reminds travelers to check the airlines' sites separately for deals.

Related: How to pay for your vacation

"You basically have the month of October to pull this together," said Joe Megibow, Expedia's vice president and general manager. Travelers can expect more packed planes this year as airlines constrain their capacities, he said.

Holding out "can backfire on you," Megibow warned, who said 21 to 28 days before travel is a good window to book domestic airfares.

Higher prices for air tickets and gas didn't stop travelers during last year's Thanksgiving season, when AAA estimated about 42.5 million people were expected to fly, ride trains or drive 50 miles or more from home.

"It is a holiday focused on visiting family and friends," said AAA spokesperson Cynthia Brough. "There will always be Americans who prioritize that travel in their household budgets. It’s that important.”

If grandma's house is full and you have to book a hotel, procrastinators should not fear. The ideal booking window for rooms is actually 15 to 18 days before Thanksgiving, according to Hotels.com spokesperson Taylor Cole. Last year, hotels ended up discounting their rates by 30 to 40 percent for the holiday, she added.

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