Fall Forecast – How to Find the Cheapest Flights for Fall Travel

Autumn is the best time of year to fly: Great weather, fewer crowds and all that beautiful fall foliage. Best of all are the prices, a big improvement over summer fares.

LISTEN: FareCompare’s Rick Seaney has more money-saving strategies.

Airfare Overview

The magic date that kicks off the airlines’ fall travel season is Aug. 25 [see the FareCompare video below]. That’s when airlines lower airfare prices by 10, 20 and 30 percent or more. However, average airline ticket prices have been creeping up in the past few years and are now running about 2 to 3 percent higher than last fall. This is on pace with inflation but, sure, it stings. So let’s make the most of your travel money.

When to Fly

Cheapest days to fly: Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays are usually the least expensive days to fly.

Best travel periods to fly: Try these two windows.

  • From Aug. 25 to about mid-November
  • The first two weeks in December

Expensive times to fly:  Avoid the big holidays periods.

  • The days surrounding Thanksgiving (Nov. 27)
  • The days surrounding Christmas (Dec. 25)

How to Fly

We all prefer non-stop flights but they can be expensive. Premiums on long-haul non-stops this fall are running about 10 to 40 percent above prices for connecting flights. Note: This isn’t always the case, so you must compare prices to be sure which route is the cheapest.

Airline Ticket Prices: What to Aim For

These are round-trip prices to shoot for this fall. Try to get as close as you can.

Flight

Duration

Best Airfare

Short haul 90 minutes or less $150 to $200
Medium-range 2½ to 3½ hours $200 to $250
Cross-country 5½ to 6 hours $270 to low $300s

 

When to Buy Tickets

Best day to shop: Tuesday is almost always the best day to shop for the cheapest possible tickets. The best time of day on Tuesday is about 3 p.m. eastern.

How early to shop: The usual rule is, purchase tickets at least 30 days before departure and don’t buy tickets earlier than 3 months ahead – but there is one important exception.

Holiday Flights

Buy these holiday tickets any time of year: If you plan to fly the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after, there are no rules – go ahead and buy these tickets weeks or even months earlier than we normally suggest.

Most expensive Thanksgiving travel days: The Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after. That’s because these are the most popular days to fly (or close) not only at Thanksgiving, but during the entire year – and prices go into the stratosphere. If you plan to fly on these days, shop now.

Other Thanksgiving travel dates: Begin shopping 3 months before departure which means you have a few weeks but don’t procrastinate. Want to shop now? Go for it.

Christmas travel: Begin shopping 3 months before departure.

Cheapest holiday dates to fly: Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Not only will tickets be cheaper but airports will be less crowded. You might even get an empty middle seat next to you.

VIDEO: See what makes the magic date to fly so special.

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Published: August 20, 2014