How Thanksgiving travelers can still arrive on time

Nov. 25, 2013 at 7:36 PM ET

Video: Millions of Americans will face rain, sleet or snow during their yearly Thanksgiving pilgrimage as a big storm heads east. Over the next 24 hours, delays can be expected at major highways and airports east of the Mississippi. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

Thanksgiving travelers looking to beat the heavy winter storm barreling down across the country have a few choices: shift your travel plans by a whole day, shell out extra cash, or cross your fingers. 

Possibly, all of the above.

"I just changed my flight to tomorrow morning. I will not be without my mom's stuffing on Thursday," said Grace Aldridge, a 28-year-old marketing account manager from Chicago, Ill. who paid Delta a $200 ticket change fee to make sure she made it to New York City for Thanksgiving.

Some holiday travelers who were planning to leave the day before Thanksgiving are now racing to get out of town. 

Meredith Modzelewski, a 30-year-old social media director from Brooklyn, N.Y., is taking a bus with her boyfriend and two friends to his parent's house outside of Boston. "We'll probably stick with the bus, but just leave tomorrow after work rather than Wednesday," she said.

Others are instead going to hunker down, wait for the worst of the storm to pass, then try to hit the road on Thanksgiving day.

"I had planned on leaving Wednesday morning, but this storm will likely force me to push it back to Thursday," said Prudence Shank, a 36-year-old freelance copywriter, who will drive 3.5 hours from Pittsburgh, Pa., to her family home outside of Harrisburg for Thanksgiving.

And those who can't afford to change their plans may just have to pray for the best.

"I’ll probably just wait it out and hope that it all turns out okay," said Ashley Howard, an 18-year-old college student flying from Boston, Ma. to Charlotte, N.C. 

Besides trying to dodge the storm itself, experts suggested several other tips holiday travelers could take to improve their odds of showing up in time for the big carving.

"If you have to take connecting flights, connect through warmer weather, less snow-storm affected hub," said George Hobica, president of Airfarewatchdog. Try Atlanta, Dallas, Miami, Phoenix, Charlotte, Minneapolis, Denver, or Newark. Rather than risk bottle-neck prone Chicago O'Hare, he said, see if you can get routed through Houston.

If there's no chance your plane will get off the ground, ask if it's possible to get on another flight that puts you within striking distance.

"If your JFK to LA flight is canceled, see if the airline will fly you to Las Vegas, for example. From there you can hop on Southwest or rent a car to LA," said Hobica. You can also get a full refund for a canceled flight, even on a non-refundable ticket, as long as you cancel on the flight's outbound portion.

Though only seven percent of holiday travelers, or about 3.14 million people, will fly, the prospect of tangles at the airport looms large in traveler's minds.

"I'm just glad we aren't flying because it seems like it would be a lot worse," said Modzelewski. "Bus companies generally still make the trip unless the weather is truly apocalyptic, whereas planes, well — I feel like the smallest thing can cause delays."

Contact Ben Popken via, @bpopken, or