Holiday 2017: Best Time to Book Cheap Flights

Lights on a tree

Attention shoppers

If you plan to celebrate the December holidays with a trip,  buy your airfare now because prices are already on the rise. See which cities have historically been hit with big price hikes, then see ways to find relatively good deals; yes, they exist – if you hurry.

Delays can be costly

FareCompare examined 2016 airfare price data for thousands of flights across the U.S. and Australia during last year’s Christmas travel period (during the last two weeks of December). The overall findings suggest this year’s procrastinators will pay a daily price-hike on top of the already expensive holiday airfare.

Hikes by city: Here’s a sample of 2016’s average daily price-hikes on flights from several top U.S. cities beginning Oct. 1 through Dec. 24. All prices in U.S. dollars.

  • Atlanta, $5.21
  • Denver, $4.30
  • Los Angeles, $4.18
  • Boston, $3.64
  • New York, $3.09
  • Dallas, $2.88
  • Chicago, $1.90

Hikes by route: These were some of the bigger average daily price-hikes, by route:

  • Atlanta to Denver, $8.15
  • Atlanta to New York, $6.77
  • Denver to Dallas, $6.45
  • Los Angeles to Atlanta, $6.40

Hikes in Australia: Flights between these cities showed some of the highest average daily price-hikes:

  • Perth to Brisbane, $13.59
  • Perth to Sydney, $9.97
  • Melbourne to Brisbane, $3.52
  • Sydney to Melbourne, $2.23

You may or may not pay amounts exactly like these, but if history is any guide, fares will go up and they will go up on a daily basis.


Best time to buy

Buy now: The best advice for anyone who hopes to fly during the December holidays is to buy airline tickets now. During the 2016 season, many of the cheapest tickets were available only through October; daily price-hikes followed, with some of the biggest jumps occurring in early December.

Don’t wait: Don’t delay your purchase past November. Veteran fliers may think waiting until the last minute pays off and that was sometimes true years ago but, no more. Last-minute holiday bargains have gone the way of free checked-bags.


Three ways to find deals

US Christmas Map: Click the region you’ll visit in December and see which are the average cheapest days to fly to your destination. Plus, see which airline offers the most deals for the flights you need.

Global Getaway Map: If you’re a bit flexible on when you can fly, this deal-finding map can be useful. Add your hometown and month you want to travel then click Map It and watch the deals pop up. If you can’t fly the exact itinerary of a deal you like, you may be able to fly one of those days and still save some money.

Compare fares: Whether you’re shopping for holiday flights or for travel any time of year, always compare airfares. No single airline always has the best price, so if you only go to one carrier’s website to shop, you might pay too much.

More savings

Cheaper bags: Most airlines will charge $50 or more to check a suitcase but a carry-on bag is usually free (check with your airline to be sure or see our Baggage Fee Chart). Even if you must pay for a carry-on it’s still worth the money because the airline won’t lose your carry-on and you won’t waste time waiting for it to appear on the luggage carousel.

Cheaper transportation: Airports are usually mobbed during holiday periods and parking garages can be expensive. Suggestion: Instead of driving yourself, get dropped off by a taxi, Uber or Lyft. Or ask a friend or neighbor to drive you; then drive them to the airport next time they fly.

Prep for security: Security may take longer than usual thanks to infrequent flyers who don’t know all the rules like no liquids in containers larger than 3.4 ounces. So get to the airport – and the checkpoint – earlier than usual. Tip: Join the TSA PreCheck program; you get to keep your shoes on and get your very own speedy security line.

Got all that? Great. Now buy your ticket, and have a wonderful holiday.

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