Last-Minute Holiday Travel Tips

If you haven’t purchased your Christmas airfare yet, I have just two words for you:

Buy now.

The season of the highest prices is now upon us. In fact, Dec. 16 is the official start of the airlines’ holiday season, and let me kick it off with the news that Christmas prices are up about 10 percent compared to 2010 – a very similar scenario to what we saw this past Thanksgiving.

Podcast: Listen as Editor Anne McDermott and I chat about finding the cheapest last minute holiday flights – and snow globes. ‘

Holiday Travel Survival Guide

Be Flexible, Fly ‘Cheaper’ Holiday Dates

As always, knowing when to fly is key to finding last-minute deals for the holiday season.

Take a look at the following chart based on an internal FareCompare study of holiday ticket prices between the top 40 cities in the U.S. (figures are based on airfare purchased Dec. 13). Notice that this year, Christmas Eve (Sat., Dec. 24) is the cheapest day to fly, and flying on Christmas Day (Dec. 25) isn’t bad either, and may even get you an empty middle seat since fewer people like to fly on the holiday. For your return trip, leave the Tuesday after Christmas (Dec. 27) to get the best deal.

Avoid Flying on These Days

Avoid the high traffic days of the Monday after Christmas (Dec. 26) and the Monday after New Year’s (Jan. 2), as they will be the most expensive dates to fly. And remember, prices will drop dramatically starting on the Tuesday after the New Year (Jan. 3), kicking off a ‘dead zone’ period which is always a good time to find cheap airfare.

Learn to Fly the ‘Dead Zones’ and Save

Choose the Right Carrier

Some airlines will be cheaper to fly than others, if you purchase your tickets quickly enough. As you can see in the chart, some of the low cost carriers offer better deals but you’ll have to weigh that against such things as loyalty programs and mileage points you might gain from another airline.

FareCompare’s Top 5 Holiday Travel Tips

  1. Pack light. Need a coat? Wear it on the plane to save space in your luggage. Carry-on bags help you avoid all the checked-bag fees.
  2. Prepare for delays. Winter means delays and cancelations are inevitable. Know your carrier’s phone number if you have to arrange another flight, but don’t jump in a long line to rebook a canceled flight – instead, hop on an a terminal train, exit security or find a VIP lounge (they won’t turn you away) to get that ticket rebooked
  3. Use technology. Download your carrier’s apps to your phone, save their phone number and get a flight-tracking app as well. Also, sign up for text alerts for your flight and do it for your family and friends picking you up at the airport so they won’t waste time if your flight is delayed.
  4. Prep the family. Pack a backpack for the kids to make sure they stay entertained throughout the entire trip. Include books, games, snacks, extra batteries and chargers – in case you get stuck at the airport.
  5. Avoid wrapped gifts.Security may unwrap them. Best bet: Mail them to your destination. It might cost a little, but it will save you space in your luggage. By the way, snow globes violate the TSA liquid rule – if you’ve packed oneĀ  in your carryon bag, it will be confiscated.

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Published: December 15, 2011