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4 tips for Thanksgiving fliers

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By Rob Lovitt, TODAY

(NBC News) - If you're thinking of flying over the Thanksgiving holiday, you should probably think like a comedian: Timing is everything and if you get it wrong, it won't be pretty. Here are four tips that can turn that frown upside down:

When to fly: Wednesday-Sunday itineraries are always popular and pricey but this year a little flexibility can net surprisingly big savings. Switching to a Monday-Friday itinerary, for example, could save you $297 on holiday flights between New York and Los Angeles, $262 between Chicago and Miami, and $183 between Denver and Dallas, according to a search on CheapAir.com last week.

“The day you return makes a bigger difference than the day you depart,” said CEO Jeff Klee, “so it's more important than ever to avoid that Sunday.”

How to fly: If you truly want the lowest fare, you'll probably have better luck looking at connecting flights simply because there are more ways to connect city pairs if you add a stop. You'll save money but, rest assured, the airline will still get its pound of flesh. “The lowest fare may be a terrible option; it might have a really long layover,” said Klee.

When to book: That old saw about Tuesday being the best day to book just doesn't cut it anymore, and fare prediction remains an inexact science at best. According to data compiled by Kayak.com, average fares actually dropped between mid-October and early November last year, but counting on a repeat is not for the faint of heart or thin of wallet.

“If you think some amazing deal on that non-stop is going to show up on Nov. 5, it isn't going to happen,” said Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare.com. “And once it's inside 14 days, business fares start kicking in. If you buy in mid-November, you're going to be treated as if your boss is paying for your ticket.”

How to keep things in perspective: Barring another recession or a sudden rash of Ebola-on-a-plane incidents, flying will remain an expensive proposition, especially during the high-demand holiday season. But it could be worse.

“Fares are basically pacing inflation,” said Seaney. “The good news is that they're only a couple of percentage points higher than last year. The bad news is that last year was the highest we've seen during this timeframe.

“If you're willing to accept a less-convenient flight, you may be able to find a better bad deal.”

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