This time of year we frequently get asked for tips to find the best holiday flight deals and our answer is pretty simple: it’s all about timing. When you’re flying for the holidays, when you fly and when you buy can make all the difference in the world, often to the tune of hundreds of dollars.
When to Fly
You practically need a PHD to understand all the factors that go into airline pricing but the single most important factor is how full a flight is. If an airline has 100 seats on a plane, they might sell the first 10 at the lowest fare, the next 10 at a slightly higher fare, the next 10 at a still higher fare, etc. etc. So as a flight gets more booked up, tickets for additional seats on that plane become more and more expensive.
The problem with flying around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years is that almost every flight eventually gets really, really full. It doesn’t matter where you’re going. Virtually all flights end up departing with a lot less empty seats than usual. But there are definitely some days that are worse than others, as you can see on the calendars below. The dates in red are the busiest days and likely the highest priced ones. If you can plan your trip so as to avoid those days, you’re likely to save some money. The dates in green are dates that are less popular and usually have the best bargains.
When you’re planning your holiday flight, keep in mind that adjusting your travel dates by a day or two can sometimes save you hundreds of dollars!
When to Buy
The other important consideration when it comes to holiday travel planning is when to buy your tickets. While for most of the year we are quick to caution people about buying their tickets too early, for travel around Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Years booking too late is the much more serious concern. When airlines launch fare sales, they almost never offer discounts on flights that are already heavily booked. So waiting for fares to drop usually doesn’t work, especially if you are planning to travel on one of the “red dates” above. In those circumstances, it’s hard to imagine that booking too early would ever be a problem. If you are traveling on other dates, you might have a little bit more of a cushion but we still advise you to book at least 2 months in advance.
Let us know if you have any questions. We’re here to help.
Jeff Klee is the founder and CEO of CheapAir.com. He started CheapAir in 1989 from his college dorm room after getting a crash course in the airline industry while planning a backpacking trip through Europe on a student’s budget. He and his team of 65 travel enthusiasts are on a mission to radically simplify the way people shop for travel deals.