Even this close to Thanksgiving, there are travel deals to be found

With a blockbuster Thanksgiving travel season approaching, it's time to pat yourself on the back for buying those tickets months ahead of the pack.

What's that, you say? You procrastinated and are in full freak-out mode? Breathe and read the following tips for getting home for the holidays without paying an arm and a leg.

"Last-minute bookers can often find good deals on flights close to the holidays, as airlines look to fill their last few remaining seats," AAA's Nicholas Jarmusz said.

But now's the time to begin your search. If you're flying, forget Wednesday, Nov. 27, the busiest travel day. Instead, consider arriving Monday, Nov. 25, which offers the "lowest average ticket price," AAA recommends, or a Thanksgiving flight - data shows it's "the cheapest day to fly," Expedia suggests.

"You can also save by booking multiple items at the same time - i.e. hotel and flight, or flight and car rental," Expedia's Christie Hudson said. "'Bundling' like this can save you an average of up to $600."

Family reunions at Thanksgiving will be even happier with a cheap fare. Daily Herald File Photo

Another price-saver could come from choosing a less busy airport such as Midway or Milwaukee Mitchell International.

For return flights, avoid Sunday, Dec. 1, when all the other travelers will be squeezing onto planes, advises Scott Keyes, co-founder of Scott's Cheap Flights, an email subscriber service that offers free limited memberships.

Taking the train? "We frequently do flash sales, sometimes without blackout dates," Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said.

"Having our apps, a free Amtrak Guest Rewards account, following our social media channels, checking the Deals tab at are great ways to keep up with all this."

Meanwhile for college kids returning to the nest, a new company may have a discount option. New York-based OurBus has expanded to the Midwest offering service between Chicago and student hubs including Ann Arbor, Champaign, Madison and St. Louis.

The company doesn't own buses; instead it contracts with local charter companies and promises comfy seating, Wi-Fi and water. But be warned: Although the Chicago-area routes are available for Thanksgiving travel, they're limited at other times.

And, if you're renting a car, consider a non-airport pickup. Airport taxes and fees can jack up rates. And don't forget to check the small print to see if spouses drive free.

<h3 class="leadin">You should know

This Thanksgiving marks the second-highest turkey traffic volumes since 2005, AAA reports. More than 55 million people will hit the roads and airports over the holiday, a 3 percent increase from 2018. Data indicates the afternoon of Wednesday, Nov. 27, will be the busiest travel time. In Illinois, about 2.5 million travelers will drive somewhere and should expect average gas prices of $2.63 a gallon, a dip from October.

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Starting Oct. 1, 2020, federal law will require passengers on domestic flights to have a driver's license or state-issued ID card with a gold star, signifying REAL ID compliance. The change was mandated after 9/11. Daily Herald File Photo

REAL ID event in Lombard

If you're flying domestically for the 2020 Thanksgiving holiday, you'll need REAL ID or a passport.

On Oct. 1, 2020, federal law will require passengers on domestic flights to have a driver's license or state-issued ID card with a gold star, signifying REAL ID compliance. The change was mandated after 9/11.

To get REAL ID, there's a very specific list of documents you need to bring to your local DMV. To learn what to bring, go to And here's some good news: A special REAL ID event is from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. today at the Lombard secretary of state facility at 837 S. Westmore Road.

<h3 class="leadin">Your voice

Reader Joseph Bianchi of Palatine was irked by the Illinois tollway's practice of using machines that don't give out change, which was described in last week's column.

"I wonder what would happen to a retailer that has self-checkouts if he (decided) not to give change?" Bianchi said. "Probably he would be in jail. So why is it OK for the state to do it?"

Got an opinion or question on transportation? Email

<h3 class="leadin">One more thing

Pace officials finalized their 2020 budget with no fare increases and a robust capital plan, thanks to an infusion of state dollars (made possible by a gas tax increase). The capital menu includes 28 new buses that will have Wi-Fi, improved bus shelters, bus tracker signs, and construction of a replacement Northwest Division garage in Wheeling.

Pace also kept eight low-ridership routes that had been slated for cancellations or reductions.

"Our traditional fixed route service is not working in these areas, but other transit models might," Pace Executive Director Rocky Donahue said.

One pilot project involves a ride-share program between the O'Hare South Cargo Area and the CTA Blue Line Rosemont stop funded by the RTA.

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