Best Time to Buy Plane Tickets for the Holidays

Whether you’ll be traveling over Thanksgiving or Christmas, the time to start shopping for holiday airfare is now. The sooner you start, the easier it will be to find cheap airline tickets for the holidays or at least reasonably priced airfare.

More tips! FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney and editor Anne McDermott chat about more ways to find cheap flights for the holidays. Listen:

Here are some tips to get you started.

Start Airfare Shopping Now

Don’t expect to be rewarded with last minute cheap deals this year; travel demand has been holding fairly steady through much of this year, which is why airlines were emboldened to hike airfares several times in 2011, including a small hike just last week. Keep the following in mind:

  • Shop now for the best holiday prices
  • The longer you delay, the more prices will rise

Note to gamblers: It’s not unheard of for airlines to do last minute discounting on less popular routes but there are no guarantees; if you must fly during the holidays, book now or you may not get a seat at all.

Cheapest Days to Fly for the Holidays

Be as flexible as possible on travel dates. Even if you can’t arrange it so all your flights occur on “cheaper days”, you’ll still save by traveling on one of less expensive dates.

Cheapest Thanksgiving travel dates:

  • Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 24)
  • Monday before the holiday
  • Tuesday after the holiday
  • Friday and Saturday after the holiday (varies by airline)

Cheapest Christmas travel dates:

  • Christmas Day (Dec. 25)
  • Before Dec. 17 and after Jan. 2 (varies by airline)

The most popular days to fly will be the most expensive; for example, many Thanksgiving flyers like to travel on the Wed. before the Turkey Day and the Sunday after, but these are among the most expensive days of the entire year to fly.

Where to Find Deals

Holiday sales are rare, but they do occur. Here’s a Deal Finder Check List:

More Strategies for Holiday Savings

If you’re willing to sacrifice a little comfort and/or convenience, there are other ways to save:

Fly hubs/larger airports: It’s a fact of life that the bigger the airport, the cheaper the airfare; if you can stand to drive two, three or even four hours before you get on a plane, the savings could be worth it.

Find out more about why larger airports are cheaper

Fly connecting routes: Non-stops are great but you pay a premium for the quicker flight. Not recommended for families with small children unless the kids are exceptional travelers.

Are connecting flights worth the money you save?

Cutting Non-Flight Holiday Travel Costs

There are more ways to save than on airfare alone (and we’d love to hear your special savings tips, too):

Use a carryon: Wear your bulkiest clothing and send your gifts ahead by inexpensive ground shipping so you’ll save on the $50 checked-baggage fee. Or fly JetBlue or Southwest and get free checked-bags.

Use public transportation to the airport: This is easily accomplished in cities like New York or LA, but smaller towns often have airport transit options, too, including nationwide chains such as Go Airport Shuttles. Whatever you choose, test it out before the holidays to make sure you arrive at the airport in plenty of time.

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Published: September 12, 2011