How can I get a good price for my Thanksgiving or Christmas Holiday flights?

CheapAir.com publishes a Holiday Flights Report each year that clearly identifies the best days to fly, based on airfare intelligence for 11,000 flights in the most popular markets. Simply put: we’ve done all of the analysis so you don’t have to stress about it. Here are a few pro tips for holiday flight purchase. You won’t want to miss these to help keep your costs as low as possible.

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1. Book earlier than you think you should.
This is not the time to procrastinate. There’s a reason you always feel like you’re overpaying for flights if you wait until October to purchase them. Flights for the holidays are priced at a premium straight out of the gate, because airlines know there’s built-in demand. You also have to consider that there can be 30+ economy fares for any given flight. Once those low fares are gone (and the early birds will definitely snatch them up), the prices just go up and continue to climb the closer we get to the end of the year. The holidays are not the time to hold out for sales and discounts.

2. Flexibility is the bargain holiday traveler’s friend.
First, the bad news. When your number one priority is the best price, you simply can’t insist on scheduling details like “I must have no more than an hour layover” or “evening flights only” or even “nonstop only for me!” The flights with the most attractive itineraries are generally going to be popular with everyone, so they may already be priced at a premium (most nonstops these days), or may have already sold out of the lowest fares.

Your ability to be flexible can often return happy dividends in the form of unexpected cost savings. If you’re a person who doesn’t mind a bit of a wait in an airport or two or can happily fly a few different airlines in one trip, you might find that being flexible will save you some cash. If you have restrictions, all is not lost. Just plan to buy very early when the best choices are available. Not all value is in the cheapest ticket. Peace of mind and getting exactly what you want have their appeal as well.

3. Mix it up.
We’re talking about mixing up airlines, not your baggage. Shh…CheapAir.com has this groovy and somewhat secret little feature that allows you to mix itineraries for airlines. Not all online travel agencies have this capability, and it can sometimes give you the best fare, schedule, and overall itinerary. All we’re talking about is maybe flying Virgin America on the outbound, but returning on Alaska. Don’t take my word for it. Check it out on our site. If mix-and-match savings are available, they’ll come up first in your flight results.

4. Alternate airports can save you bank.
It’s not always on the table, but if you’re one of the lucky people flying to or from an area with multiple airports (like Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, Washington, D.C.), always check your airport options to make sure you’re getting the best savings. It might not make sense to fly into Newark if it’s only going to save you cab fare into Manhattan, but often you’ll find bigger savings available.

5. Take off the rose-colored glasses and get realistic.
Sorry to be a killjoy, but we like to think that a healthy dose of realism is actually the best antidote to overpaying for holiday airfare. If you process and accept that holiday airfare is simply not going to be bargain-priced to begin with, you’ll not be holding out for highly unrealistic sale pricing in October and November while watching the prices climb unnervingly higher and higher. Plan to spend a little bit more, buy a little bit earlier, and save yourself the money and last-minute stress.

6. Be ready to buy.
Does that sound a little bit vague or obvious? It’s one of the most important tips we can give. It might be right up there with “book earlier than you think you should.” Why? Well, simply put, it’s just not useful to watch the changing fares when you’re not ready or able to buy. Airfare volatility can give you a headache, and unless you’ve got the cash in hand you’ll just add to your stress. When you see the seats you need, know that other people are watching those same seats. The next time you go in to get that fare, someone will have snatched them up. When you see a good fare, you have to be ready to buy. If you’re in a pickle about cost, you can also buy airfare on the installment plan with CheapAir. Yep! You can make payments for your flights.

7. Don’t wait to pay baggage fees.
Some airlines are taking a page from the Spirit Airlines playbook and charging you for bags on a sliding scale (i.e., if you pay for your bags at the point of purchase, they are the most affordable; if you wait until later, the prices go up with the most expensive fees paid at the gate when you get to the airport). Some people prefer not to think about annoying baggage fees at all, and then feel oddly irritated when they get hit with them at the airport even though you knew about them from the beginning. We are personally familiar with that scenario! Just pay for them upfront when you can and then you don’t have to worry about the added cost later.

8. Use CheapAir.com’s Price Drop Payback for peace of mind.
A lot of people are optimists and hold out hope that fares will go down, even though they seldom do. We’ve put a nifty little tool in our customers’ hands that help mitigate that very human impulse. If you buy your airline tickets with us and they do go down in cost after your purchase, we will refund up to $100 per ticket. You can read about how price drop payback works.

We hope we’ve given you a little food for thought in your holiday planning process this year. Feel free to drop us a line via our comments section below for more custom advice. Happy planning, and happy holiday travels!

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