Holiday Travel 2009: Guide for Buying Cheap Holiday Flights

Don’t miss the FareCompare Christmas Travel Guide for 2010

Finding Cheap Tickets for Thanksgiving and Christmas Holiday Travel Season

Thursday September 10, 2009, 9:16am EDT

The two FareCompare.com calendars below are the crux of this years Holiday Travel Buyers Guide. Both Thanksgiving and Christmas are showing with the darker colors depicting the most expensive days to board a flight for you departure and/or return. It’s also important to note that the airlines have added a “Peak Travel Surcharge” of $10 each-way to flights on select travel dates.

The dates that will be affected by the surcharge this holiday season are November 29 – November 30, December 19, December 26 – December 27, and January 2 – January 3, 2010 (find more peak travel surcharge dates for 2010).

For the past few decades, millions of air travelers have set out on their yearly trek home to bask in the holiday season with their families and loved ones. However, this year in particular, many are wondering whether or not they can afford the luxury of a holiday airline ticket.

Luckily, there is some good news on the price front; at FareCompare.com we have been tracking a significant decrease in domestic U.S. holiday travel ticket prices. Thanksgiving and Christmas airline ticket prices are down between 15 to 20 percent (13-Oct-2009 the price drop is now in the single digits tracking at 7 to 9 percent) compared to the same time last year (smaller cities have the smaller decreases).

While September may seem a bit early to get into the holiday spirit, it has historically been the best month to start shopping for domestic holiday flights.

I spent some time this past week reviewing our FareCompare.com database of domestic airfare (5 years worth and counting) which includes daily prices for over 64,000 U.S and Canadian city pair combination’s.

The data shows September is definitely when the first wave of discounting for fall and winter travel occurs which includes the busy holiday travel season. Some of you are probably grumbling right now because you felt you got burned last year when you bought holiday trips early and flight prices dropped — and you are justified in your ire.

Procrastinators, who historically have been hammered with $800+ roundtrip holiday tickets were rewarded last year in what appears to be a once-in-a-lifetime confluence of events. Oil prices dropped from $145 a barrel in early July to $60 a barrel in early November 2008 and at the same time, demand for air travel – especially from the lucrative business travelers – dropped through the floor as the recession began to kick-in with full force.

I don’t expect that to occur this year, as airlines are cutting back seats in what Reuters called the biggest aviation cuts since World War II. While fewer seats typically mean higher prices, this year demand is off sharply so discounting is still prevalent.

Certainly oil prices are a wildcard again this year, but do you believe oil is more likely to be at $35 or $85 (currently $71) – I’ll take the latter. Bottom line is that holiday travel procrastinators do so at their own peril this year and practical travelers should be shopping now and buying before the end of October.

As you start shopping you’ll notice wild swings in prices depending on what day you want to depart and return. It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that everyone wants leave and return on the same days.

Airlines have been studying these habits for years and price their seats accordingly.

Fortunately we also study these trends and the chart at the top shows you exactly what days you should target for finding the cheapest flight around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Be aware that non-stop flights are garnering 2 and 3 times premiums, so if you want to get to your destination the cheapest way possible, be prepared to take a connecting flight.

Don’t forget to checkout our holiday travel flight cutback analysis to see where your city falls in the latest downsizing of domestic aviation.

Update 24-Sep-2009: We broke the story on the holiday travel surcharge as all 5 legacy airlines are adding a $10 premium on a few of the busiest holiday travel days. Here are a few stories generated from our breaking news:

I hope this information is helpful; at FareCompare.com, we come to work each day to create new tools and use our technology to help you find the best air travel deals. I suggest you get going, and visit our one of a kind tools:

Have a joyous holiday season,

Cheers,

Rick Seaney, CEO, FareCompare.com

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Published: September 10, 2009