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Thanksgiving Travel Surge Hits American Roads

The Thanksgiving travel surge is in full motion and Americans pack planes, trains but mostly automobiles. According to AAA, 43.6 million people are traveling at least 50 miles this holiday weekend. The majority going by car.

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At airports like Chicago's O'Hare International, fewer people are flying compared to last year. Don't tell that to the Harris family. As it stood in a slow moving security line at O'Hare International, the crowd looked the same as last year. "We booked a month ago and got a good deal," said Mike Harris. (Read More: Black Friday Tips - How to Snag Doorbuster Deals)

Overall, this is the fewest number of Americans flying Thanksgiving weekend since 2009, even though the average domestic airfare is down 11 percent compared to last year.

Still, Orbitz says this weekend most planes will be packed. "We're not expecting a big drop in the number of people on planes. People still want to get away this weekend," said Jeanenne Tornatore, with Orbitz.

More Driving, Fewer Rental Cars

Almost 40 million Americans will take a car at least 50 miles this weekend, the most since 2007. The increase is spurred in part by gas prices holding at moderate levels. According to AAA, the average gallon of gas costs $3.41, just 6 cents more than Thanksgiving weekend in 2011.

For many people in the Northeastern United States, trying to get away is complicated by a lack of rental cars being available this weekend. Most rental car companies say they are fleets in the Northeast are almost completely spoken for because of the surge in demand after Hurricane Sandy. (Read More: 'Black Thursday' Blacklash Grows Louder)

Not surprisingly, bus and train lines are expecting to handle more passengers than normal as more people look for other ways to get home or get away.

Smooth Weekend, Solid Start to Holiday Season

For the airlines, this weekend marks one of its busiest periods of the year. And a smooth Thanksgiving weekend at airports is critical to solid fourth quarter earnings. The good news is a lack of storms means few delays and cancellations. (Read More: Happy Down-Sized Holiday)

For hotels across the country Thanksgiving is often feast of famine. In certain cities, like New York, rooms are hard to come by and the rates are running at close to $300 a night. On the other hand, your non-traditional destinations for Thanksgiving have plenty of rooms at low prices. For example, Las Vegas has plenty of open rooms, some going for as low as $96 a night.

"If you are looking for deals, they're out there. The key is to book it as a package with air fare and hotel together that way you are taking full advantage of what's available," said Tornatore.

-By CNBC's Phil LeBeau
@LeBeauCarNews


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