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As Thanksgiving sneaks up, hotels and restaurants seek last-minute business

With a superstorm and major election in the national rearview mirror, Americans can be forgiven if they aren’t exactly prepared for a feast — or flight — on Thursday.

Yes, this Thursday.

Thanksgiving arrives earlier than usual this year — the holiday falls on the fourth Thursday of November, which is usually at the end of the month. Although hotels have been dangling deals, travelers appear to have been taken by surprise. Overall, holiday travel is expected to increase only slightly compared to last year, and AAA is forecasting a nearly 2 percent dip in air travel nationwide for the period between Wednesday and Sunday.

“I think people just waited,” said Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel.com. “They didn’t realize Thanksgiving was coming and by the time they thought about booking, it was just way too late. Airlines have cut capacity back so much that for high peak times, things get sold out so quickly that whatever’s left winds up being very expensive.”

For the period between Nov. 16 and 27, industry trade organization Airlines for America expects almost 24 million people to fly, which the group says is an increase of about 150,000 people over last year. South Florida airports are expecting an uptick in travelers: Miami International Airport anticipates more than 888,000 passengers between Monday and Nov. 26, a 1.1 percent increase over the previous year. At Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, where capacity has increased nearly 5 percent over last year, the number of travelers is expected to top 500,000 between Sunday and Nov. 25.

And the number of people on the road is expected to increase, likely due in part to gas prices that are significantly lower than a month ago. On Monday, a gallon of regular unleaded in Miami cost about $3.44, compared to nearly $3.76 a month ago. Gas is slightly more expensive throughout the state than it was last Thanksgiving, though AAA expects the recent slide in prices to level off because of unrest in the Middle East.

Whether they are driving across town or flying across the country, people in South Florida who find themselves surprised by the sudden onset of Thanksgiving can find plenty of discounted hotel rooms and lavish dinners out.

The Angler’s Boutique Resort is offering a 15 percent discount for stays of two nights or more between Thursday and Sunday and promoting a $44.95 Thanksgiving dinner at the restaurant 660 at The Angler’s on social media. General manager James Ayres said he’s expecting a slightly busier Thanksgiving this year at the hotel and restaurant.

“I think a lot of people weren’t really prepared,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of pickup yesterday and today for reservations.”

Ayres said waiters were telling people at the restaurant for brunch over the weekend about the upcoming holiday menu.

“We’ve gotten a couple astonished looks that it was this week and not next,” he said.

B Ocean Fort Lauderdale has Thanksgiving and Black Friday packages on its website, featuring perks such as turkey sandwiches for a beach picnic on the holiday and pre-shopping espresso and post-mall wine at the hotel for Friday.

Director of sales Ron Gebhardt said the hotel will be close to sold out this weekend, up significantly from last year, due in large part to international increases.

Robert Festinger, vice president/managing director at the Newport Beachside Hotel & Resort in Sunny Isles Beach, said its restaurant, Kitchen 305, is geared up to serve 400 on Thanksgiving, compared to 250 last year. The company has been offering a discounted price for the buffet — $49 for two people — on The Miami Herald’s dealsaver.com since last week.

In addition to locals who want to make reservations instead of a multi-course meal, Festinger said the 325-room hotel will be unusually packed for the holiday weekend, which he described as typically “a little bit of a valley.” Some of those guests, he said, are regulars who are coming from areas in the northeast that were affected by Hurricane Sandy.

“I have customers that I’ve dealt with in the last five years and they’ve been calling and saying, ‘We’re coming down,’ ” he said. “ ‘We’re going to get out of New York, Long Island, Connecticut.’ ”

Airline and travel analyst Henry Harteveldt, with Atmosphere Research Group, said many people in New York and New Jersey are likely still dealing with too many hassles and expenses — and limited travel options — to plan last-minute getaways. But he figured some of those residents might try to make travel plans to warmer destinations for holidays later this year or early next.

But for James Dixion, a 29-year-old private investigator who lives in Manhattan and took a major hit from the storm, November was the time to get out of town. The Miami-Dade native said he’d been staying with friends and relatives and putting in claims for possessions he lost to flooding when he decided to head south for the holiday with his brother and sister to escape the post-Sandy ordeals — and the cold.

On Monday, Dixion said he planned to check into the Newport Beachside Hotel & Resort on Tuesday morning after visiting friends in the area.

“I’m enjoying this weather and it feels good to be away from the mess,” he said. “Right now we’re like calm waters. I just want to enjoy some family, some friends and take it easy for a couple of days and deal with everything else later.”

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