Last week, I walked into my local drugstore to pick up some sunscreen for a spontaneous trip to the beach and my eyes were assaulted with an entire row of Christmas decorations—in July! This experience brought out my inner Scrooge – how in the heck am I expected to start Christmas shopping in July?
While some of us here at CheapAir believe holiday preparations should commence sometime in autumn, there is one crucial exception. Holiday airfares should be purchased early (like right now) for the best rates.
We have done a lot of homework in this department to help our customers save money. First, no holiday traveler should miss our 2nd Annual Holiday Fare Tracker. The tracker can help you chart daily changes in price and demand, and shows which dates on the calendar are least and most expensive. CheapAir has analyzed the factors that affect holiday travel so you can take the guesswork out of the process. Then for an interesting review of the 2013 travel season (and to get a better idea of what 2014 will look like), check out our post “What We Learned About Holiday Airfares.” There are a few additional strategies you can implement to assure the best value for your holiday flight planning. Without further ado, here are five tips to score you a better deal on holiday airfare:
1. Be the early bird.
Yes, this is one of those rare cases in which you must book early to reap the best price rewards. With holiday travel, there is simply no way around the fact that early equals cheaper. If you are buying on price, buy early. If you’re the type who waffles for weeks in order to try and get the best possible deal, CheapAir offers the fabulous Price Drop Payback™ feature. With PDP you’re not held hostage by the prospect of missing out on a better fare. You can be confident in knowing that you will be credited up to $100 for future travel should your ticket price drop further.
2. Fly on Turkey Day.
If you’re planning a short flight, you might consider traveling on the holiday itself. Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Years Day in major airports tend to look a bit like ghost towns compared to the travel days leading up to the holiday. Fewer crowds and shorter lines at security can be yours for the taking if you don’t mind flying when most people are not. Airfares are also generally less expensive on holidays, if you’re buying in advance. Of course, if you wait until a week before the flight, you’ll pay a premium and you have to be willing to risk flight delays on a day that many people plan to spend with family. But, on balance, if your need to save money, it can be a good option.
3. Avoid the herd.
The Sunday after Thanksgiving and the Sunday after Christmas are usually the most expensive days to fly during the holiday season because that’s typically an extremely high-demand day for travelers. True, your employer may have restricted which days you can fly around the holidays (especially if too many folks are angling for the same time off), but if you have the flexibility with your job we ask you to reconsider. You might save a day of PTO or vacation time, but you could wind up spending a lot more on your airfare.
4. Look at the big picture when you’re choosing flights.
You may pay the lowest price by booking flights with connections, but remember that holiday travel is often hampered by weather delays. A non-stop (if you can swing it) is still the shortest distance between two points. If you’re on your way from Los Angeles to New York when bad weather is buffeting the Midwest and Northeast, a stop in Chicago could completely sideline your plans. Don’t increase your risk of getting stuck en route unless the savings makes it an imperative. If you’re only saving a few bucks it might not be worth the risk. If you do decide to roll the dice, make sure you are on the first flight out. Earlier gives you the edge.
5. Go big for Thanksgiving.
Remember, the only folks celebrating Thanksgiving are on North American soil. You might score a decent international flight if you’re open to a more exotic getaway. Set up a flight tracker to destinations further afield, and you could find yourself with a surprisingly low fare. Imagine your Thanksgiving dinner in an Italian trattoria or a French bistro! Sure it’s unconventional, but sometimes going against the grain is good travel strategy.
Finally, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, pretty much across the board, flexibility will save you money. Keep the restrictions on your travel plans to a minimum and you will see savings. And don’t wait! It might be too early for Christmas music in your local supermarket, but there’s no better time to purchase holiday flights than the dog days of summer. Happy Holiday travels!