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Kris Kringle presumably will fly over the holidays, but thousands of Californians won't.

About 72,000 fewer folks will board planes over the year-end holidays, as economic turbulence overrides deep discounts on airfare, travel industry analysts say.

And despite the cheapest gasoline in five years, fewer people are expected to drive 50 miles or more from home during the holiday season, according to the seasonal travel forecast by AAA Northern California.

"Travel is a luxury," AAA spokeswoman Cynthia Harris said. "People are definitely cutting back on their travel."

But some passengers at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport on Wednesday were happy to get out of town.

Anne Shapiro of Santa Rosa paid $204 for a roundtrip flight to Las Vegas -- well above Horizon Airs' advertised $69 one-way fare -- but she got two nights in a deluxe hotel room for $79.

"What a deal, right?" Shapiro said. "I couldn't afford not to go."

Her trip was inspired by a chance to surprise her nephew and godson on his 40th birthday.

Marty and Jeff De Kay-Bemis of Occidental, also catching the midday flight to Las Vegas, got a $600 package for airfare and three nights at the Venetian.

"We wanted to go to Paris, but we couldn't afford it," Marty De Kay-Bemis said.

For consolation, she said, the Venetian is a block away from the Paris Las Vegas, with its imitation Eiffel Tower, on the Vegas Strip.

While 1 million Californians are expected to fly over the holidays, that's a 6.7 percent decrease from last year.

Overall, the AAA expects more than 8.6 million Californians to make 50-mile or more holiday trips, down 2 percent from last year.

Most California holiday travelers (84 percent) will go by car, but the expected 7.2 million total is down 1.5 percent from a year ago.

The only increase is in the 280,000, or 3 percent of California travelers, going by bus, train or cruise ship -- up 6.4 percent.

"The economic downturn has eroded the discretionary income of Californians," Harris said. Gas below $2 a gallon and airfare discounts can't offset the malaise due to shrinking paychecks, job losses and job insecurity.

"People are worried," Harris said.

But for those who do take to the air, ticket discounts are "really unprecedented," said Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare.com, an online travel service.

Airfare sales started in late October and haven't quit, Seaney said, with the major airlines and low-cost carriers competing in a shrunken market, having cut available seats by 9 percent from last year.

Horizon offers $69 flights from Santa Rosa to Las Vegas and Los Angeles, $79 to Seattle and $99 to Portland. The promotional fares apply only to a limited number of seats on each flight, a Horizon agent at the Sonoma County airport said.

But procrastinators still can score good deals, Seaney said, especially if they can pick the ideal travel days. Dec. 25 and Jan. 1 are "the absolute cheapest days to fly," Seaney said.

Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays generally will be the best deals, he said, while weekends are most expensive, with Fridays and Mondays right behind.

For those thinking ahead, air travel discounts should continue through January, February and early March, Seaney said.

Dan Weis of Sebastopol will be spending plenty of time aloft. A product manager at Microsoft near Seattle, he flew into the county airport on Wednesday, happy to avoid the shuttle from SFO.

On Friday, he'll jet to Shanghai, China, to pick up his fiancee, April Yao, and return to his parents' Sebastopol home for a Dec. 26 wedding.

The newlyweds leave the following day for a honeymoon in Maui, then will return to Seattle.

Carol Weis is busy sprucing up the house for the ceremony.

"I've got two sons," she said. "I never planned on doing a wedding."

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.