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Thanksgiving airfares: Act now or pay, pay, pay

Some carriers are already jacking up prices for certain itineraries and more hikes are coming.

Act fast if you're planning to fly anywhere for Thanksgiving. USA TODAY

Thanksgiving Day is almost always the cheapest day to fly for the Turkey Day holiday.(Photo: Getty Images)

Sure, Thanksgiving – Nov. 23 – is still months away, but it might as well be tomorrow as far as the airlines are concerned. Some carriers are already jacking up prices for certain itineraries and more hikes are coming. If you want to go to Grandma’s without paying more than you have to, the time to act is now.

Most expensive days to fly

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving (Nov. 22) and the Sunday after (Nov. 26): Avoid flying on these days if at all possible because they are the busiest travel dates and most expensive. Many fly these days because it means not having to sacrifice vacation time, but you often pay for this convenience with horrendously expensive tickets.

If you must fly Wednesday-Sunday, book tickets now. The price of this itinerary has been rising since late August and is currently increasing on average by $1.50 a day, which jumps to about $2.50 a day in October. That may not sound like much but procrastinators could end up paying an extra $200 or more per ticket that could have been avoided.

Cheaper days to fly

A cheaper itinerary would be the Tuesday before (Nov. 21) and the Monday after Thanksgiving (Nov. 27). If you don’t have to worry about school or work schedules, try flying the Saturday before (Nov. 18) to the Monday after (Nov. 27) and you may see exceptional savings.

Cheapest day to fly

Thanksgiving Day is almost always the cheapest day to fly for the Turkey Day holiday. Here’s an example for flights between Detroit and Nashville:

• Fly Wed.-Sun. (Nov. 22-26), $469
• Fly Thurs.-Sat. (Nov. 23-25), $193

When possible, move dates around to find a combination that works best for you but always compare airfares; at Thanksgiving time (or any time), you cannot count on a single airline to always have the best deal.

FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney is an airline industry insider and top media air travel resource. Follow Rick (@rickseaney) and never overpay for airfare again.

The CEO of FareCompare tells us which two days of the year are the worst to fly. Elizabeth Keatinge (@elizkeatinge) has more. Buzz60

10. John F. Kennedy International (JFK): Many New Yorkers know to avoid JFK under everyday circumstances. It's even more crowded during the Thanksgiving travel period. Go instead: MacArthur Airport in Islip, N.Y. (ISP) is located 50 miles from Manhattan on Long Island, but it's worth the trip — especially when it comes to avoiding JFK. Airlines that fly through MacArthur include Southwest, American and Elite Airways.  Seth Wenig, AP

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9. Newark Liberty International (EWR): Located in New Jersey, Newark is often a popular alternative for New Yorkers, but it will be even busier than LaGuardia and JFK during the Thanksgiving travel period. Go instead: Consider flying through Trenton-Mercer Airport (TTN) in Ewing, N.J. This joint military and public airport is located 52 miles from Newark and is much more low-key — perfect for avoiding the holiday rush.  Julio Cortez, AP

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8. San Francisco International (SFO): With many people on their way out of Northern California's biggest airport and many coming home, it's no surprise that SFO will be incredibly crowded at Thanksgiving. Go instead: Oakland (OAK), located just 20 miles from San Francisco, might be more well-known these days than in past years, but it's sure to be less crowded.  John G. Mabanglo, EPA

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7. Houston George Bush Intercontinental (IAH): Houston travelers might have to travel out of the way for these alternative airports, but considering IAH's Thanksgiving crowds, it's probably worth it. Go instead: If you want to stay close to the city, search Southwest for flights out of the William P. Hobby Airport (HOU), located only 11 miles from downtown Houston. For more airline options without the IAH crowds, Thanksgiving travelers can look at the less-busy airports of Austin (AUS) or San Antonio (SAT).  David J. Phillip, AP

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6. Charlotte-Douglas International (CLT): Charlotte's airport is a perennial offender on the list of busiest airports at Thanksgiving, and it's only getting busier. Go instead: If you can make the trip, Charleston International Airport (CHS) in South Carolina is a less-crowded alternative that can get you home on American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, United.  Jeff Gluck, USA TODAY Sports

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5. Dallas/Fort Worth International (DFW): With service to more than 200 destinations, Dallas is one of the busiest airports in the world, even when it's not Thanksgiving. Over the holidays, it can be a travel nightmare. Go instead: Just 17 miles from DFW, Dallas Love Field (DAL) is a close alternative that offers service from Delta, Southwest and Virgin America.  Stewart F. House, Getty Images

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4. Denver International (DEN): Denver is considered one of the best airports in North America, but that also means it's very popular — especially for Thanksgiving flights. Go instead: Colorado Springs Airport (COS) is 80 miles from Denver, but with a 79% on-time departure rate, you're more likely to get home on time. And it's served by Alaska, Allegiant, American, Delta, United and other major carriers, making it a great alternate airport for Thanksgiving travel.  Brennan Linsley, AP

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3. Los Angeles International (LAX): You need to arrive at LAX earlier than the national average in order to make an everyday flight. Over the holidays — and factoring in Los Angeles traffic — you'll need to arrive even earlier than that. Avoid the stress and book your Thanksgiving flight elsewhere. Go instead: Choose from nearby Long Beach (LGB) or Burbank (BUR) to beat the crowds and get home a little quicker. With plenty of domestic airline options including Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and United, there are many ways to get home without having to go through LAX.  Nick Ut, AP

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2. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International (ATL): Alternate airports near Atlanta are few and far between, but a long commute to another airport may be worth the hassle. Atlanta has Thanksgiving's second-busiest airport. Go instead: Some of the airports closest to ATL that are sure to be considerably less crowded include Chattanooga (CHA), 123 miles away; Birmingham (BHM), 147 miles away; and Montgomery (MGM), 161 miles away.  Bob Andres, Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

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1. Chicago O’Hare International (ORD): Coming in at No. 1 on the list of worst airports this Thanksgiving is Chicago O'Hare — one of the country's busiest and most notorious airports any time of year. Go instead: In Chicago you have a lot of options, including Rockford Airport, which is 73 miles away and offers travel to select destinations via Allegiant Air. However, Chicago Midway (MDW) is only 21 miles away and offers many more flights and destinations through Southwest.  Nam Y. Huh, AP

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