Christmas 2013: How to Find the Cheapest Flights, the Best Deals

Maybe you're still debating the merits of jellied vs. whole cranberries, but believe it or not, now's the time to focus on Christmas and New Year's. For you procrastinating Turkey Day travelers, we still have Thanksgiving airfare tips.

But for December travelers, we have six little words of advice:

The Time to Shop is Now

This is not to say shopping now is going to save you a ton of money; it'll just guarantee you a seat. Christmas and New Year's flights are all about finding what airfare expert Rick Seaneycalls, "the best of the bad deals." Follow his advice in the tips below and you will see holiday savings.

Listen to Rick, too – more tips just ahead:

Find cheap flights fast right here

Prices Jump in Mid-December

Check out airfare prices in the first week of December. Compare that to prices  late in the third week. What do you see?

  • Airline ticket prices jump from 30% (for shorter trips) to 90% (for longer trips)

Rick's tip: "If possible, take your holiday trip in the cheaper December dead zone – the first couple of weeks of the month – which can save you a bundle. Even if you can only begin your trip during that period, you'll still see some savings."

Expensive Days to Fly

This year, Christmas and New Year's fall on Wednesdays so many travelers will see the weekends as natural start/end points for holiday trips. Don't fall into this trap. The highest prices are reserved for weekend flights, and you'll often pay a premium for Fridays as well.

Dates to Avoid

  • Dec. 21, 22
  • Dec. 27, 28, 29
  • Jan. 4, 5

Rick's tip: "If you can't avoid all weekend travel, try to limit it to just half your trip. Your wallet will thank you."

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Cheaper Days to Fly

Relatively cheap:

  • Christmas Day (Dec. 25)
  • New Year's Day (Jan. 1)

Less cheap but still pretty good:

  • Christmas Eve (Dec. 24)
  • New Year's Eve (Dec. 31)

Not so cheap but better than weekends:

  • Monday before Christmas (Dec. 23)
  • Monday before New Year's (Jan. 30)

Rick's tip: "Whittle down controllable costs. Example: Use a carry-on to avoid checked-bag fees."

How to pack a carry-on with everything you need

Save with Connecting Flights

FareCompare recently looked at flights from Hartford to Los Angeles. Non-stops cost more than $700 during the Christmas holiday period but adding a stop to the journey brought it down below $550.

Rick's tip: "If you can endure the inconvenience, adding a stop (or two) to a flight can save you 70% – or more – on flights that last over 2 ½ hours."

Cheap Destinations, Expensive Destinations

Cheaper places to fly: Short-haul destinations with lots of flights and lots of competition and some examples include Dallas-Houston, Los Angeles-New York, Miami-Tampa.

More expensive places to fly: You'll pay a premium for many warm weather destinations including the Caribbean where some flights are going for as much as $1,000. Also, prices between the West Coast and Hawaii may cost double the usual airfare.

Rick's tip: "We're seeing certain exceptions to the warm weather rule, with decent prices from the Northeast to some of the more popular destinations in Florida."

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