Save Money with These 3 Holiday Dead Zones

Having a non-traditional Christmas is more common than it used to be. With blended families and work schedules that are difficult to change, people sometimes have to celebrate the holidays in creative ways. Occasionally, that means celebrating Christmas on a day other than December 25.

Here’s another reason to consider planning a non-traditional Christmas this year: air travel can be significantly less expensive on alternate days. In 2010, an estimated 13 percent of travelers flew on off-peak days to save money.

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When to Travel, When to Save
Three less-expensive travel periods around the Christmas and New Year’s holidays are during the first half of December, December 27-29, and the first half of January. For each of these periods, booking during November is recommended. Here are three alternative holiday options that can save you a bundle on airfare: 

Option 1: First Half of December
Air fares during the first two weeks of December are often 10 to 20 percent lower than the peak fares. If you travel to or from cities with intense airline competition, like Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Orlando, Phoenix or Las Vegas, you could save even more during the first half of December. This two-week period is considered a “dead zone” in air travel lingo because Thanksgiving travel has concluded, and business travelers tend not to schedule much travel between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Book tickets before mid-November for the most money-saving options.

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Option 2: December 27-29
The day before Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas are the two biggest Christmas air travel days. Travelers willing to postpone Christmas celebrations by two days can save with terrific holiday travel deals. If you are willing to depart on Christmas Day itself or December 27, and return on the 29th, you can usually avoid paying peak travel day prices. An added bonus can be taking advantage of post-holiday shopping at your destination. A slightly non-traditional Christmas celebration can make the holiday a bit more fun and less stressful too. For best results, you should book by December 1.

Option 3: First Half of January
After New Year’s travel is over, air fares drop and remain low through most of the month. In the northern hemisphere, you do have to be aware of nasty winter weather, but you can minimize your risk by choosing nonstop flights, or those with the fewest connections. Booking during the first half of December will maximize your travel options and savings.

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Fares sometimes rise dramatically around 14 days before your departure date, particularly with traditional airlines like American and Delta, so planning ahead can pay off big. Tuesday afternoons are usually a great time to shop for plane tickets, because fare sales often begin on Mondays, and by Tuesday afternoon, other airlines may have matched the new, cheaper prices.

If you must travel on fixed dates, you may be able to save money by using connecting flights or by flying to airports surrounding your departure or arrival city. If you are determined to gather the most friends and family for the Christmas holiday, consider celebrating early or late, so that everyone can take advantage of great deals on airline tickets. Take advantage of the FareCompare travel tools, and you can see for yourself how prices change day to day.

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Published: November 11, 2011