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The Best Airlines to Fly Around the Holidays

Thanksgiving is still three days away, but millions of Americans have already started traveling across the country to see family and friends. According to AAA, 43.6 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, an increase of 0.7 percent from 2011. Industry trade group Airlines 4 America forecasts that 24 million people will fly over the Thanksgiving weekend — slightly more than last year.

This year marks the fourth consecutive year that Thanksgiving holiday travel will increase, says AAA spokesperson Heather Hunter.

AAA says 90% of these travelers will arrive at their destination by car, an increase of 0.6% from last year. But holiday air travel will fall to 3.14 million travelers from 3.2 million in 2011. Gasoline prices on average are relatively unchanged from a year ago, but airfares have peaked since last Thanksgiving. Airfares are up 9% for the Thanksgiving period according to Travelocity; Priceline says flights have gained 3%.

Wendy Perrin, consumer news editor at Conde Nast Traveler magazine and author of "Wendy Perrin's Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know" says there are still last minute deals available for travelers who waited until the eleventh hour to book a flight. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after are the busiest travel days of the year so travelers would be wise to book a flight Thanksgiving Day and return the following Tuesday if possible, she says. Now may also be the best time to redeem airline miles to help offset the cost of a holiday flight, Perrin notes.

With so many people swarming the airports this week, and 90% of flights projected to be full, Perrin recommends arriving at least two hours before the scheduled flight departure. In an interview with The Daily Ticker, Perrin's one rule of advice that she cannot stress enough: "You want to have the security of having booked directly with the airline." Travelers want to arrive at the airport knowing they have a seat assignment.

Smaller airlines, such as Hawaiian, Southwest, Virgin America and JetBlue, offer certain perks that the big carriers do not: more legroom, better in-flight entertainment and friendlier customer service, Perrin notes. But flying the major carriers like United and Delta may be the smarter choice around the holidays. If a traveler misses his or her flight, there's a good chance another one will be close behind, Perrin says.

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