Do you really want to wait until the last minute to plan your holiday travel?
You don't need me to tell you that airports and roads will be busier than ever, or that travel somehow feels different from last year.
If you missed Christmas airfare sales, don't worry. The week of Dec. 5 will offer 5 percent savings. It's also the ideal time to book for the New Year's holiday, with savings of almost 7 percent.
If you plan to stay at a hotel, prepare for sticker shock. Rates are up about 5 percent this year, and they're projected to go even higher in 2017 (from 3 percent to 5 percent in North America, according to projections by the research firm Advito). Hotel prices rise and fall with demand, although they're typically less volatile than airfares. If you want to save, this might be the year to stay with relatives or try a vacation rental.
Contrarian booking behavior might help you find affordable accommodations. For example, start-up site Sonder.com offers a cross between a short-term rental and a hotel. Sonder's "hometels," which pass a rigorous inspection before joining its collection, are aimed at business travelers, who don't do a lot of holiday traveling. That could mean a money-saving opportunity for holiday travel.
What to expect out there? Two big issues will define the holiday travel season: Zika and terrorism. The spreading Zika virus could create softer demand for warm-weather destinations, like the Caribbean and Florida, experts say. But if you're not pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant, those destinations could also offer an opportunity to save money. The only exception is Hawaii, which is currently Zika-free. "I anticipate Hawaii becoming very expensive as people seek an alternate warm destination without Zika," says Clem Bason, chief executive of Goseek.com, a hotel website.
Overall, safety worries will exert the biggest influence on holiday travel, according to several experts I interviewed. As Jim Hutton, chief security officer at travel risk management company On Call International says, one significant point will make the 2016 holiday travel season different: increased security.
"The airport attacks in Brussels and Istanbul have already had an impact at airports and major transit stations," he says. "But I wouldn't be surprised if security at these locations - as well as destinations where religious or seasonal cultural events are held - are taken up a notch during the holiday travel season."