(A slightly different version of my story below first appeared on CNBC)
The bizarre election season is over and now Thanksgiving and the more-hectic-than-usual holiday travel season is kicking into gear.
But although Airline for American reports U.S. airlines will carry 27.3 million passengers over the 12-day Thanksgiving holiday travel period (Nov 18-Nov 29) – up 2.5 percent over last year – reasonable (though not cheap) fares and getaways may still be possible.
“Most searches will be done on the 11th and 12th, but most people will commit on the 13th, after thoroughly looking and comparing the previous prices offered,” said CheapOair’s travel expert Tom Spagnola.
Many airlines look at their inventory capacity with a 10-to-14-day window to determine when to lower fares for last minute shoppers, he said, “making the 13th the ‘tipping point’ for those committing to a Thanksgiving trip.”
Where to go?
Travel analysts from Expedia report that New York City and Las Vegas top the list of holiday destinations this year.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade draws 3.5 million to New York City each year, but you can avoid the crowds and still see the giant character balloons by watching the balloon inflation the day before the parade (November 23) in the streets around the American Museum of Natural History.
“The inflation takes place from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.,” says NYC & Company, “though earlier in the afternoon is the best time to see the inflation process as by about 9 p.m., most of the balloons should be fully inflated.”
In Sin City, you can escape the casino and nightclub scene for a while at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, where the 4,200-square-foot Boulevard Pool overlooking The Strip transforms into an ice rink on November 21, complete with fire pit, s’mores and cocktails.
Those seeking healing R&R during the Thanksgiving week might also consider destinations like the northern New Mexico town of Taos, which is home to spas offering everything from massages and facials to hot baths and mud soaks — and most all are open during Thanksgiving weekend.
Another place to head to if you want to avoid the holiday crowds is the Texas Hill Country River Region, where you can book a cabin near the site of the largest tree in Texas, and where fall foliage hikes through Garner State Park are an option straight through December.
For a more upscale escape, the Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole in Wyoming offers guests stargazing excursions and customized, four-hour luxury SUV wildlife expeditions (with food) in Grand Teton National Park, the Bridger-Teton National Forest and the National Elk Refuge, home to more than 5,000 elk.
And while others may be heading to the malls on the day after Thanksgiving, if you’re in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, you can avoid the crowds and relax with fresh cider and microbrews from more than two dozen of the Midwest’s craft breweries at the Black Friday Beerfest at the Harley-Davidson Museum.
During Thanksgiving week (Nov. 23 – 27), military personnel are invited to eat free in participating airport restaurants across the country operated by Paradies Lagardère (formerly Paradies) as part of its “Treat Our Troops” program.
Active and retired military personnel can show their military I.D. cards when ordering or checking out to receive a complimentary menu item and beverage at these restaurants:
• Sweet Auburn Market – Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport
• Blue Ridge Tavern – Asheville Regional Airport
• 4th Street Vine, McKenna’s on the Fly and the Long Beach Marche – Long Beach Airport
• Bar Symon – Pittsburgh International Airport
• Big Bowl, Magic Pan and Say Si Bon! – Denver International Airport
• Jammin’ Java, Smokewood American Grill and Say Si Bon! – Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport
• Say Si Bon! – Reagan Washington National Airport
Thanksgiving is also being celebrated at Washington’s Dulles and Regan airports with a “Turkey in the Terminal” promotion.
At Dulles International Airport, six restaurants are participating in the promotion, including Bar Symon, which is offering a Gobbler Burger; Cosi, which is serving Turkey Chili; and the District Chophouse and Brewery, which is featuring a Smoked Turkey Club.
At Regan National Airport, four restaurants are featuring turkey-themed dishes, including Ben’s Chili Bowl, which is offering a Jumbo Turkey Dog.
Through Nov. 30, both airports are sharing a juicy turkey recipe from Chef Symon.
— Dulles Food & Shops (@IADFoodandShops) November 16, 2015
Here’s a nice gesture being extended to military personnel traveling this Thanksgiving:
Paradies, a company that operates many airport concessions, is inviting active or retired military to dine for free in any of its airport restaurants from November 24 to 27.
The offer is courtesy of the company’s Treat Our Troops program and will cover one menu item such as an entrée, sandwich or salad, and a non-alcoholic beverage.
To take advantage of the promotion, active and retired military service men and women can simply show their military identification when ordering or checking out.
Funds for the promotion come not just from Paradies, but from other travelers: throughout the year, Paradies restaurant customers can buy a $5 voucher that is then applied to the dining check of an active or retired military service member.
Here’s a list of some of the participating airport restaurants:
· Sweet Auburn Market – Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (Atlanta, GA)
· Blue Ridge Tavern – Asheville Regional Airport (Asheville, NC)
· McKenna’s on the Fly, 4th Street Vine Wine and Beer Bar, and the Long Beach Marche – Long Beach Airport (Long Beach, CA)
· Bar Symon – Pittsburgh International Airport (Pittsburgh, PA)
· Say Si Bon Gourmet Market – Denver International Airport (Denver, CO)
· Smokewood American Grill and Say Si Bon Gourmet Market – Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (Bentonville, AR)