Holiday Airfare Guide 2012

Thanksgiving and Christmas will be here before you know it. Are you ready? If not, take a look at the following tips to help you save. Yes, airfare will be expensive, but if you shop right, you won’t break the bank entirely.

When to Buy Holiday Tickets

There are no real deals for the holidays but if you put off your purchase, you will pay more than you have to. Some information you need to know:

Thanksgiving:

  • Purchase airfare now
  • If ticket purchase is delayed until Nov. 1, add an average of $3-$5 per day to airfare total
  • If ticket purchase is delayed after Nov. 1, add an average of $5-$10 per day to airfare total

Christmas:

  • Best time to purchase airfare is by Nov. 10
  • After second week in November, add an average of $5-$10 for each day of delay to airfare total

No matter when you fly or where you go, the advice is the same: It’s time to shop for tickets now.

LISTEN: Air travel expert Rick Seaney’s latest holiday tips and tricks.

Holiday Airfare Prices

Airfares, on average have risen about 5% this year overall but as usual, Thanksgiving and Christmas will be much worse (with one important exception – see below). Overall holiday ticket prices will jump from 30% to 70% over everyday pricing depending on the route. If you fly non-stop, factor in an additional premium of 10% to 20%.

Exception: Holiday flights of less than an hour’s length or roughly an hour or so will largely cost the same as they do during the rest of the fall and winter, mostly because airlines fly so many of these routes throughout a day (example: Los Angeles – San Francisco).

See the prices to shoot for during the holidays, and the sooner you make your purchase, the better chance you’ll have of meeting these price goals.

  • Flights up to 500 miles: approximately $200 round-trip
  • Flights from 500 – 1,500 miles: approximately $350 – $400
  • Flights over 1,500 miles: approximately $400 – $500

Cheaper Days to Fly

While airfare prices are generally much higher overall during holiday periods, some days within those periods are cheaper than others.

Cheaper days for Thanksgiving: The Monday before the holiday (Nov. 19) and Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 22). Avoid the Wednesday before and the Sunday and Monday after the holiday.

Cheaper days for Christmas: Up until Dec. 18 – after that, holiday prices kick in although flights on Christmas Day (Dec. 25) are cheaper.

Remember too that the time of day you fly can affect pricing – overnights and early morning flights tend to cost less.

Cheaper Destinations, Routes

Short hops: As noted, you will pay a premium for non-stop flights so try connections to save, and if you’re looking for an inexpensive getaway, stick with flights under an hour. Example: Dallas – New Orleans, a 53 minute flight; such short hops typically don’t get the hefty holiday premium.

Western cities: Increased competition in some western destinations has kept airfare prices relatively low at cities such as Denver and Los Angeles/Long Beach.

Florida destinations: Flights from the east coast to several Florida cities can be good bargains in fall or winter even during the holidays.

Cheaper Airports

Those who live in mid-sized or smaller cities know the pain of higher airfare thanks to less competitive airports. Typically, flying in and out of larger hub airports or airline focus cities means cheaper airfare but you must also weigh the convenience factor of a longer drive to the airport and costs like heftier parking fees. Compare airfare, add up the rest then ask yourself if South Bend or O’Hare is right for you.

Fees to Avoid, Fees to Try

Avoid bag fees: Unless you’ll be flying on JetBlue or Southwest which still offer a checked-bag for free, use a carry-on bag to save as much as a $50 round-trip fee (and much more for overweight bags). Bonus: Carry-ons mean no lost bags and a quick exit from the airport.

Try early boarding fees: If traveling with family and/or multiple carry-ons, a fee for early boarding can offer less stress and convenient bin space for your bags. Bonus: Some of these fees, like Southwest’s cost as little as $10 per person.

More from Rick Seaney:

Expert Guide to Savings on Holiday Airfare

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Published: November 1, 2012