Most years, airline ticket prices become astronomically expensive the longer you wait to buy, and the closer it gets to the holiday itself. This year, prices are already more than twice as much as they were projected to be, with no signs of a turnaround. All the more reason to not wait until the last minute to buy.

When do the airlines raise prices?

Typically, the airlines bump up their prices at the 21-day, 14-day and 7-day thresholds before your travel day. For most people, we’re already inside that 21-day window. You can be relatively sure that if the supply levels hold for your particular flight, you can shop around until we hit the next benchmark. But when you review our Holiday Flights page, you can see that the average flight price is continuing to march upwards each day.

Here is an example of what we mean. Say you’re planning a flight from Los Angeles to Seattle departing on December 23rd and returning on December 27th. You’ve been watching the fares for a couple of months. Maybe the fares have been holding steady at $150. Over the weekend after Thanksgiving, you started searching again and were shocked to see that the prices had jumped up to close to $200.

Some folks would decide to continue to wait. After all, the prices were $150/ticket for months. Maybe they’ll go back down again. Unfortunately, that’s not a gamble we recommend you take. On Friday, December 3rd, we hit the 21-day threshold and so the prices were bumped up a bit.

But you decided to wait. So now, you’re looking at this weekend to buy. Again don’t wait. When we hit the 21-day mark, a bunch of people who’d been taking a “wait and see attitude” for your flight decided to buy.

How Airlines Set Prices: Algorithms and Customer Buying Behavior

As a by-product, the airlines see that people are willing to pay a bit more for your flight. So they’re likely to push that fare up even higher sometime over this coming weekend as well. The chances that a fare for Christmas is going to go down is not great, and it’s much more likely to spike a couple of more times even higher before your travel date.

All the while as some people wait to buy, other travelers pull out their credit cards. And there are only a small number of seats at each price level on a plane. Once those fares are gone, they are gone. And as the prices go higher, the seat selections shrink. See the problem? If you wait too long, you could end up with one of the worst seats on the plane at one of the higher prices. That’s not value at all.

Protect Your Airfare Price

We do have you covered in the scenario that a fare does go down after you buy. It’s called “Price Drop Payback” and it protects your ticket for changes up to $100. So if a fare goes down after you buy, you can get up to $100 towards your next ticket. Here’s how it works.

Monthly Payments and Other Payment Options

If you’ve waited a little too long to buy, or if you’d like to have a little more money available for Christmas shopping, you can also take advantage of some of our other payment options. You can “Buy Now, Pay Later” for flights and hotel rooms with our finance partner, Affirm, and you can also purchase flights with Bitcoin and other digital coins. What we’re saying is that we have options so it isn’t too late to make your holiday travel plans happen.

Please don’t wait to buy your ticket. If you have concerns about Covid-19, keep in mind the airlines all have generous change and cancellation policies in place so you can be confident that booking now still affords you the flexibility you need.

Please visit our Holiday Flights page for the latest news, tips and strategies for booking holiday flights. We’re here to help!

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