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The High Cost of Traveling During the Holidays

Is airline travel only for the rich and famous?

If you’re looking for a way to get out of seeing your relatives during the holidays, then by all means move as far away from them as possible.

I find that being 3,000 miles away is far enough to make traveling during the holiday season so expensive that you’ll never have to spend another Christmas with relatives.

Of course it helps if you have a large family. If you have to buy one high-cost plane ticket, you might be willing to bite the bullet and do it. But when you’re faced with the prospect of buying five expensive plane tickets, it’s easy not to travel.

Judging by what the airlines are charging for tickets this year, mine must be one of the few families unable to afford the cost of heading home for the holidays.

Then again, maybe few people can really afford to travel for Christmas, but the airlines are banking on the fact that we’re all such sentimental saps that we’ll initially balk at costly plane tickets, but once we hear “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” a dozen times we will burst into tears and pay whatever outrageous amount they’re asking.

I bet the people who price airline tickets are sitting in their plush offices in hell laughing at how much they are gouging consumers this year.

They’re probably smoking fancy Cuban cigars and drinking 18-year-old Scotch and comparing notes about just how much they are sticking it to people this year.

“I’m charging $1,500 for a middle seat from San Francisco to Syracuse,” one executive says before sipping his Scotch.

“Seattle to Atlanta for $1,600 a ticket,” another boasts. “And that’s with stops in Boise, Denver, and Detroit.”

Finally, there’s the sole guy in hell who has a little Christmas spirit. He’s like, “Hey, it’s Christmas and people want to get home to see their families. With that in mind, I have seats from San Francisco to Columbus for only $1,407 each.”

 I remember when my family used to pay about $225 for plane tickets for travel during the holidays. In those days we waited until November to book flights. Those days, however, are gone.

Now we begin our attempts to book flights in August. Not that it does any good. This August, airlines were already asking nearly $600 a ticket for flights from SFO to Columbus. At that point we knew that there was no way we could pay that much for 5 tickets. But because we like to torture ourselves, we vowed to check a dozen or more times.

In late September, my wife found that fares had gone up to $800 a ticket. Every week or so, she’d check again. When prices reached $900 a ticket, she gave up.

On December 3rd, I checked ticket prices from San Francisco to Columbus, hoping for some good news. Obviously, this was a complete waste of time. All I learned is that ticket prices had gone from bad to worse.

On Expedia, I found prices starting at $1,407 a ticket. Other travel sites weren’t much better. Orbitz and Travelocity each had tickets starting at $1,264. Kayak found tickets for $1,056. This bargain price required you leave from SFO and return to either Oakland or San Jose.  

I don’t want to give the impression that we are the kind of people who aren’t flexible. I played with dates outside of the preferred ones (12/22 – 12/29). I checked other airports in Ohio – Dayton, Cleveland, Toledo, Cincinnati, and Akron. I checked airports in other states – Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Detroit, and Chicago. With the exception of Chicago (a relative bargain at $968), all the prices were comparable to those I found to Columbus.

Even traveling on Christmas Day didn’t help much. The prices did come down to around $700 a ticket. But who wants to spend Christmas Day eating peanuts and drinking a half can of soda? Although I imagine they’ll give you a full can as a Christmas bonus.

I spent so much time searching that eventually all the websites began asking the same question - “Will you give up and admit you can’t go home for Christmas?”

Well, I’ve accepted that I can’t travel home for the holidays.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t burst into tears whenever I hear “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”  

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