The holidays are coming and there’s plenty to look forward to like turkey and cranberry sauce, presents under the tree, and time spent with family and loved ones. The one thing you’re probably not looking forward to is the holiday travel. Traveling is stressful enough, but add overbooked flights and skyrocketing ticket prices and it’s almost enough to make us want to spend the holidays hiding under the covers or escaping to a vacation rental on a sunny island. There’s a lot of advice out there when it comes to the best time to book your flight, so we’re here to help you sort through it all. This is the best time to book your holiday flight so you can sit back, relax, and enjoy your hot cocoa.
Avoid the most common dates
If you have the flexibility, avoid the most popular dates around the holiday. For example, most people will try to fly Wednesday to Sunday for Thanksgiving. Higher demand means higher prices, but if you can fly Tuesday to Friday, you can save a lot of money. The same goes for Christmas and New Year’s, but you do have a little more flexibility around those holidays. Usually, for those holidays, people travel the weekend before, so just think of what would be the most convenient dates and check the prices for a few days before and after to see if there’s a difference. For Christmas, you’ll usually find the best fares Between December 21 and 25, with the best return dates between December 28 and 31. Better yet? Travel on the day of. Ticket prices drop drastically on the actual holiday.
Book an early flight
Another great way to find a good deal and avoid the holiday travel crowds is to travel at undesirable times. Booking the first flight of the day is usually cheaper any time of year, and the holidays are no different. Plus, you’re less likely to deal with delays and other hectic situations at the airport. Sometimes the price of red-eye flights are also lower, but it’s not as common because these flights are more popular with business travelers. The most expensive times to fly are 8 to 10 a.m. and 5 to 7 p.m.
Book early, but not too early
Typically, the best time to purchase tickets is two or three months before. Prices will creep up slowly around the one-month mark, and although you can sometimes snag last minute deals, you definitely shouldn’t expect it. On average, prices go up $2 per day from 30 to 20 days before departure, $5 per day from 20 to 14 days before departure, and $14 per day from 14 days before departure until the departure date. Don’t book too early either. Airlines release flights at a higher price to make room for later sales. The sweet spot is said to be 11 weeks before your departure date. Since you already know that you will be traveling for the holidays, it’s always best to start planning early to get the best deal.
Set a price alert
This is by far the easiest way to find a great deal. Set up an alert with your desired destination and dates, and you’ll get an email every time the price rises or falls. Many travel websites even provide tracking data and will let you know if it’s a good time to buy. While it may not be the absolute lowest price, it’s usually pretty close. There’s no way to know if the price is at rock bottom, and you’ll probably only be saving $20.
The rules are a little different between international and domestic flights. Typically international flights are less expensive at least two months before your departure day, and maybe up to 7 or 9 months in advance. When flying international, it’s even more important to start planning early.
What day is best?
We’re talking about weeks or months in advance, but does the day of the week matter too? Yes! Sunday or Tuesday are usually always the best days to book your flight. Weekends are generally good, but not Fridays since there’s an uptick in business travel bookings. Tuesdays can also be good because many airlines release their weekly sales on Tuesday morning, and by the mid-afternoon, other airlines drop their prices to keep up.
Always compare airfares. We all have our go-to airlines, but no one airline always has the cheapest fares. Always shop around to find the best deal, and make sure you’re factoring in other hidden fees (like luggage) into the total price. Spirit or other low-cost airlines may have airfares that start the lowest, but when you consider paying for a carry-on, checked bag, printing your boarding pass at the airport, or getting a seat reservation in advance, you might get a better deal flying on a more traditional airline.
Don’t waste your miles. Many airlines blackout dates around the holidays or charge way more in points than the equivalent dollar amount. If you do want to book an award flight, earlier is usually better, so you can grab an award seat before anyone else does. Airlines sometimes release more award seats between 30 and 60 days before the departure date, so this can be a great option if you missed the suggested two to three months before and prices are slowly rising.
Ready to go? Find the perfect rental on Tripping.com, the world's largest vacation rental search engine.