The 5 Rip-Offs of Christmas Travel

If you plan on flying during the holidays, avoid these five nasty rip-offs. What’s a rip-off? Paying more than you have to – any time you travel – but especially during holiday periods when airfare is already high.

Listen: Air travel expert Rick Seaney and editor Anne McDermott on fighting back against rip-offs.

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1. The procrastination rip-off

Shop now – it’s only going to get more expensive. Last-minute bargains rarely crop up and when they do, they won’t necessarily apply to the routes you want. And there are penalties for waiting:

  • $5 per day: Add this to the price of airfare for each day you delay your purchase from late November through the second week in December
  • $10 per day: Add this to the price of airfare for each day you delay your purchase starting in the second week of December

2. The Dec. 19 rip-off

Remember this date: Dec. 19. It marks the start of holiday pricing when airfares rise on average from 30% – 70%. Dec. 18 meanwhile is the final day of the post-Thanksgiving dead zone, when prices are among the lowest of the year.

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One exception: Short hops between cities with a high volume of flights will cost about the same before and after the magic date.

3, The popular days to fly rip-off

The most popular days to fly are the most expensive days to fly.

Most expensive days to fly:

  • Sunday before Christmas (Dec. 23)
  • Sunday before New Year’s (Dec. 30)

Less expensive:

  • Thursday after Christmas and New Year’s (Dec. 27, Jan. 3)
  • Saturday after Christmas and New Year’s (Dec. 29, Jan. 5)

Cheapest days to fly:

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

If you don’t want to fly Christmas Day, you can still save some money by flying on one of the cheaper days. Or travel early, on or before Dec. 18.

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4. The non-stop rip-off

You can usually save from 15% – 20% on most holiday flights simply by taking a connecting flight instead of a non-stop. You can save even more by following this practice during non-holiday periods.

5. The bag fee rip-off

Avoid checked-bags or pay the penalty, often as much as $50 round-trip. Or fly JetBlue or Southwest, the remaining two U.S. airlines that offer free bags. If you’re flying Spirit, the advice is reversed – that airline’s carry-on fees are actually higher than its checked-bag fees.

If you do check a bag, pack lightly – overweight fees can cost as much as a couple of hundred dollars, and this is on top of the checked-bag fee.

More from Rick Seaney:

How to Avoid Getting Ripped Off on Christmas Travel


Published: December 6, 2012