Booking travel around the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons can be challenging. It is the one time of year where the airlines have a decided advantage, as more people want to fly than there are seats to fly them in. As a result, the strategies that you use to find the lowest fares during the rest of the year, don’t always work around the holidays.
To make things a little easier, we’ve compiled a list of 5 tips to help better your odds of finding a low holiday airfare:
1. Book Early
We cannot emphasize this enough. There is a myth that “if you wait until the last minute, airlines practically give away the unsold seats.” Trust us when we say that that logic almost never works around the holidays. With very, very few exceptions, the earlier you book, the better off you will be. Ten weeks in advance is better than nine weeks; nine weeks in advance is better than eight weeks; eight weeks in advance is better than seven weeks, etc., etc. This is because, although air fares change constantly, one thing that doesn’t change is the fact that as flights fill up, airlines stop offering seats at their lowest fare levels. You may not know this, but airlines typically offer 5 or more fares for each flight. The first twenty people (roughly) will pay the lowest of the 5 fares, the next twenty people will pay the next lowest fare, etc. ,etc. Holiday flights almost always fill up, so the fares keep rising. As each progressively higher fare level fills up, the price for that flight will get higher. So if you haven’t booked yet, you really shouldn’t wait much longer. Prices will continue to rise as flights get more and more full.
2. Be Flexible with Dates
For flights on the peak travel days, the lowest fares may already be sold out. If you can avoid those peak days, you can usually save some money — sometimes a lot of money. The calendar below should help make things easier. The dates in red are the busiest (and usually most expensive) days; the dates in orange are probably going to price out above average; and the dates in green give you the best shot at finding a holiday bargain.
3. Try Alternate Airports
If there is more than one airport near your origin or destination city, check them both. The more options you have in terms of airports and travel dates, the more likely you will find what may be one of the the last discount seats to where you are going. Our system automatically checks some nearby airports for you (San Francisco and Oakland; Miami and Ft. Lauderdale; New York and Newark; Washington, DC and Baltimore), but you if you are willing to use other alternates, you should check those, too, by doing separate searches.
4. Don’t Wait Too Long Once You Find Something
Availability changes quickly around the holidays. Often, there are only a handful of seats left on a given flight at a given fare. So if you see a price you like on flights you want, don’t wait too long — grab it quickly. What you see today will very likely not still be available tomorrow. We get asked all the time: “Why is the fare on these flights so much more than it was yesterday?”. The answer: because someone else snagged the seats first.
5. Be Realistic
We know you dont’ want to hear this, but travel around the holidays is almost always going to be more expensive than at other times of the year. The airlines know that on the peak travel days demand for seats far exceeds the supply. So they all increase the prices by adding surcharges, and limiting the availability of seats in the lowest fare categories. If you went to Chicago last spring for $238 and now the fare is $320 over the holidays, don’t assume that this is an aberration and it will come back down. Paying up to $100 more for a domestic flight during holiday time is not uncommon — in fact, prices go up even more than that if you don’t book far in advance.
Finding flights for the holidays isn’t always easy and isn’t always fun, but we’ll do our best to help you make it as pain free as possible. Our flight search engine generally searches more combinations of flights than any other site on the internet, and often finds options that aren’t available anywhere else. If you get frustrated or need help, our team of travel councelors is ready to assist you. Freel free to call us at (800) 243-2724. We’d like to help any way that we can.