What we learned about holiday airfares

The holiday travel season is just about over and throngs of people, weather permitting, are in the process of making their way home. Over the last 7 months, we looked at just under three hundred sixty five million fares, ran them through all kinds of queries, and gleaned some really great insights. So before we close the book completely on the 2013 holidays, let’s take a look at some of the things we learned:CheapAir-Holiday-Flight-Index

– After all was said and done, the best day to buy flights for both Thanksgiving and Christmas was June 2nd, way in advance and way before most people were thinking about holiday travel. On that date, our Holiday Fare Index stood at 8120. Don’t worry about what the number means, the only thing that’s important is it’s about 21% higher than the all-year average (which includes non-holiday travel). And that was the low point.

– As late as November 7th fares for Christmas were still only about 11% higher than the June 2nd low point. There had been a lot of bouncing around up until that point with fares going up and fares going down. After November 7th, however, prices really started to rise steeply and they never dropped significantly again.

– Not surprisingly, there was no great fire sale just before the holidays. The “empty seats” that some hoped the airlines would be “practically giving away” at the last minute never materialized. During the course of this analysis, we looked at fares every day between May 17th and December 20th. In the end, the most expensive day to buy was December 20th. The second most expense day was December 19th. Get the idea?

– The most popular holiday destination was Orlando. New York, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, and Los Angeles were also in the Top 5, in that order. The least popular destinations (based on the difference between the number of people leaving versus the number of people going) were St. Louis, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Cleveland, and Columbus.

– Over the course of the entire holiday booking period, travelers paid an average of 50% more for a flight during the holidays than for the same flight during a non-holiday time. That means a $300 ticket during off-peak time cost $450 during the holidays. Of course, 50% was just the average. The premium was lower for those who booked earlier and also lower for those who went to less popular destinations. For instance, most Florida cities were over 60% more expensive but cities like Columbus, Pittsburgh, and San Antonio only had premiums of about 30-35%. And if you booked really late, these numbers were all much higher.

– The other big factor was travel date. We found huge variances between fares on the peak travel days (like the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after) and the less popular days around them. Especially as you got later into the booking seasons, and double especially when dealing with warm weather destinations, there was often a $100 or more difference between a peak day flight and a flight one or two days before or after. If there’s a single most important lesson from this it’s that, whenever you’re planning your holiday next year, consider scheduling your trip to avoid the most popular travel days.

 

 

47 Comments

  1. Stay away from this company! They will hook you up for a flight on Spirit Airlines, at what seems like a good price! But, oh, what they forgot to tell you about that good price is that this idiotic airline will then charge you and your wife AN ADDITIONAL $160.00 just to have a simple carryon bag each leg of your trip!! How was I to know that this airline does not include a carryon bag in the price of the ticket, as does virtually every other carrier I have ever flown with (and that is many airlines!). So, thanks a lot Cheapair! Your version of “Cheap” is way too expensive for this traveller! I should have stayed with someone I can trust, like Travelocity!

    1. Hi Daniel,

      I’m sorry you feel that way. We actually do inform our customers when booking a Spirit Airlines ticket about the baggage fees and how to save. We include this information on the confirmation e-mail (at the bottom of the e-mail), in addition to a separate e-mail we send about how to save when flying with Spirit Airlines. (You should have received this information. Did you not receive it?) We also direct our customers who purchase a Spirit Airlines flight to their website to purchase any baggage ahead of time to reduce the costs. We know flying Spirit Airlines can be frustrating when not aware of these fees, but we do not hide any of this information from customers. We also include a link to a list of airline baggage fees, as all travel agencies are required to do by the Department of Transportation.

    2. I am really surprised that you were not aware of the charges for baggage and carry on. When I booked my daughter’s ticket from Delaware to ATL I paid 36.00 for her ticket. I received many emails from Cheap Air to see if I wanted to purchase luggage/ carry on’s at a discount rate before the day she was to travel. I HIGHLY recommend Cheap air to everyone. In order to get the prices we are paying we are getting just that, airfare. The other stuff is extra, I actually mailed my daughter’s clothes before she left to avoid those charges! But I was fully aware that baggage or even carry on’s were not included in the price I paid for her ticket. Give them another chance, you won’t find another airlines offering tickets at the price they are charging!! Have a great day… :))

  2. I’ve never even heard of Spirit Airlines. If they are a smaller or “destination” type of airline, you should expect them to have different policies than the major U.S. carriers. But that’s not why I’m commenting. I just thought this was a cool, informative blog post, so thanks! I book ALL my flights through CheapAir.com and have never once had a negative experience. I cross-check your prices with other discount sites and with the airline websites before I purchase, and you guys always have the best prices. Keep it up.

  3. We are flying to Honolulu from Detroit April 15-24 of 2014.
    Easter is April 21 this year 2014.
    Is now (late jan.) too early to book the flights??
    Thank you….

  4. I plan on flying to MIA or FLL for a 12/30/14 cruise. When do you think is the best time for me to book my flights?

    1. Hi Tsarina,

      Since you have a specific date and need to be in Ft. Lauderdale for a cruise, you should book sooner rather than later. In fact, since you’re flying the day before New Years Eve, you should book as soon as you can because flight prices will be high during the busy holiday travel season. Please let us know if you need any help with finding flights.

  5. We will be traveling to Hawaii after Christmas (12/27/14-1/10/15) and am wondering if we should purchase flights now or wait to see if they drop lower. When is a good time to buy for lowest fares??

    1. Hi Mary,

      Since you are traveling during the holiday period, you’ll want to purchase your flights sooner than later. Flights during this time are always more expensive due to the demand so booking further in advance is better than waiting. Please let us know if you need any help with finding flights.

  6. Hello,
    My holiday plans can now take shape thanks to my company finally giving us our holiday schedule(heavy sarcasm). I had an idea on what they were, but of course didn’t want to book until confirmed. Using dates/times I projected, I was looking for a CLE-LAX route 12/23-1/5. Had what I thought was the best I could get on Delta, the only downside was the 10:55 pm departure out of LA, but I figured I could juggle my in LA times to suit it.
    When I arrived at work last night, I saw the LAX-CLE leg went up 70 pp, and the only way to get the fare I originally wanted was to book the 12:30 am departure, effectively costing me a day in LA.
    Would you say this is a harbinger of things to come and I should book now, or maybe hang tight for a few days and keep checking(or do fares rarely do a reversal)?
    Many thanks.

    1. Hi Ray,

      Absolutely! Since you’re looking for flights during the peak holiday season, I would definitely buy now or as soon as possible. Airfares during the holidays will only continue to get more expensive since its a peak time to fly and the airlines know this. So in general, whenever you are booking travel around or during the holidays you should book well in advance before prices climb even higher. Please let us know if you need any assistance with finding flights.

  7. Hello,
    I want to leave Christmas day (12/25/14) from Orlando to Las Vegas and come back to Orlando (12/29/14.) Currently prices are higher than I was expecting, and I was told to keep waiting because they have flew to vegas alot less cheaper. But reading this article, tells me to book asap. I didn’t believe Las Vegas would be a popular destination on christmas…. Wanted your advice.

    1. Hi Timothy,

      Any travel during the peak holiday season should be booked earlier than usual. Since its the most popular time to fly, fares will be high all over because people want to visit their families and friends for the holidays. I’d definitely recommend to book your flights sooner than later to avoid the fares from increasing any more. To view flight schedules and book, you can use this link: http://bit.ly/1kqZwyd Please let us know if you need any help with finding flights.

  8. What do you consider peak holiday times? We are flying DEN->TPA December 5th and MCO->DEN December 20th. Does this still qualify as “book as soon as possible”?

    1. Hi Kristen, while anytime between Thanksgiving and the New Year is not likely to get you rock bottom fares, there are still some bargains to be had if you can avoid the peak travel times right around Thanksgiving and Christmas (which you clearly are doing). You might want to look at our Holiday Fares Flight Index – this drills down into the best days of the week to travel. http://10.185.58.36/blog/holiday-flights-2013//

      The truth of the matter is that while people aren’t generally focused on holiday travel during the summer months, this is usually the best time to get the lowest fares. If you can afford to buy now, I would keep an eye on the trends for a couple of weeks and then probably buy. If you buy with us, we have something called our “Price Drop Payback” feature. The PDP will return up to $100 to you per ticket should the price of the purchased ticket drop below what you paid. It’s a nice bit of peace of mind. Hope this helps!

  9. This was very helpful!

    For a round trip flight from BDL to MCO, dates Dec 26 to Jan 2, would right now be a good time to book?

    1. Hi Janelle,

      Absolutely! Since the holidays are a peak season and you’re traveling on popular days (The day after Christmas and the Day after New Years Day), it would be wise to book your flights sooner than later. To view flight schedules and book, you can use this link: http://bit.ly/1maUguM Also keep in mind that when booking on CheapAir.com, if the price for the same itinerary goes down any time before your trip, we’ll pay you back the difference in the form of a travel voucher for up to $100 per ticket! Please let us know if you need any help with finding flights.

  10. I am flying round trip from mco to bqn. the dates are dec 25 to jan 5. i need to buy 3 tickest. when would be the best time to book a flight through jetblue for this dates.

    1. Hi Javier,

      For your flights, you’ll want to book as soon as possible. Since you’re flying the peak holiday season, booking as early as possible is the best way to get the cheapest fares. Flights during and around the holidays are in high demand and the fares are only going to get more expensive the closer we get to the holiday season. To view flight schedules and book, you can use this link: http://bit.ly/1o6TIap Please let us know if you need any help with finding flights.

  11. I am flying to Puerto Rico from Fargo, ND leaving around Christmas and coming back on Jan.1 or a couple days after, and don’t know at what price to buy tickets. There is a one-stop flight that is $900 leaving on Christmas eve and coming back Jan. 1st and coming back Jan. 2nd it’s over $1000. Should I wait for prices to get lower, or will they just keep getting higher?

    1. Hi Kelsey,

      The holidays are a peak time for flying, so fares will be high. It is best to book now, or as soon as you can, to get the cheapest rates. Flights will only continue to get more expensive the closer we get to your dates of travel. I’d recommend traveling on Dec 25 and Jan 1st to keep the costs down since those days tend to be less desirable and therefore a little cheaper. To view flight schedules and book, you can use this link: http://bit.ly/VJkpuK Keep in mind, when you book on CheapAir.com, if the price for the same itinerary goes down any time before your trip, we’ll pay you back the difference in the form of a travel voucher for up to $100 per ticket! Please let us know if you need any help with finding flights.

  12. I’m traveling to Barranquilla, Colombia, for Christmas. For work related reasons, our travel window begins on Dec 20th through Jan 4h (Jan 5th is possible), which I’m learning, are the busiest days to travel. Our travel agency says we should wait as long as October or November to see good fares. I’ve been watching the flights and noticed the prices are already increasing. What should we do?

    1. Hi Rose,

      Due to the fact that you’re traveling during the peak holiday season, you’ll want to book earlier than later. Please let us know if you need any assistance with finding flights.

  13. I’m flying from Seattle to Chicago December 11-15. The fares right now are $335. Do you anticipate them going down any lower than that and should I wait to buy?

    1. Hi Pam,

      Based on the fares you’re seeing, I’d recommend booking now or sooner than later. Its not likely they’ll dramatically decrease in price, but when you book on CheapAir.com, if the price for the same itinerary goes down any time before your trip, we’ll pay you back the difference in the form of a travel voucher for up to $100 per ticket! Please let us know if you need any help with finding flights. To view flight schedules and book, you can use this link: but http://bit.ly/1qHvdlV Please let us know if you need any assistance with finding flights.

  14. Three adults here, we are looking to fly from Edmonton, AB, CA
    to Berlin, Hamburg or Paris, However, we are trying to find the best connection and time to book, but can’t agree.
    Our flight dates are planned around December 13th and returning to Canada around December 30th,we are very flexible with the route and destination city.
    Please help…. :)))

    1. Hi Beaner,

      In checking the those routes, it appears Edmonton to Paris would be the cheapest option with fares starting at around $1075 per person. To view flights and book, you can use this link: http://bit.ly/1onyXHJ I’d recommend booking sooner than later since you’ll be traveling during the peak holiday season. Keep in mind, when you book on CheapAir.com, if the price for the same itinerary goes down any time before your trip, we’ll pay you back the difference in the form of a travel voucher for up to $100 per ticket! Please let us know if you need any help with finding flights.

  15. Hello, I am in Philadelphia and want to book fights for the holidays to go back home to Detroit. I decided to book my Thanksgiving flight and that was a whopping $390. I would like to book a flight the week before Thanksgiving (Nov 14-22) as well as for Xmas (Dec 24-Jan 4). Is it too early for me to start booking them now? I was thinking that the prices may fall down between now and the beginning of October but at the same time was worried that they would go in the opposite direction.

    1. Hi Mo,

      For both your flights, you’ll want to book as soon as possible. The holidays are a peak time for flying so fares will be higher than normal and will only continue to get more expensive the closer we get. I’d suggest to book now. To view flight schedules and book, you can use this link: http://bit.ly/1A6HKUT Keep in mind, when you book on CheapAir.com, if the price for the same itinerary goes down any time before your trip, we’ll pay you back the difference in the form of a travel voucher for up to $100 per ticket! Please let us know if you need any help with finding flights.

  16. Would like to book a ticket to Miami on 03/07 – 03/09 2015, which I guess could be in that spring break period. When would you recommend trying to book a ticket?

    1. Hi YG,

      That can depend on where you are departing from, but generally speaking I would recommend to book just before the New Year to be safe. Keep in mind, when you book on CheapAir.com, if the price for the same itinerary goes down any time before your trip, we’ll pay you back the difference in the form of a travel voucher for up to $100 per ticket! Please let us know if you need any help with finding flights.

  17. Do you advise on flights from UK to USA? USA to Cancun, Mexico? We purchase tickets for our daughter and her family from LAX to Cancun so they can join us in our time-share in February each year. (This instead of Christmas gifts they don’t need nor want1) They are getting more expensive every year! Two adults and two daughters ages 9 and 5. Thanks in advance for any help you can give!

    1. Hi Nancy,

      We’re happy to assist you with your flights. For flights from LAX to Cancun in February, I’d recommend checking fares now. Depending on your exact dates, you may want to book now. To view flight schedules and book, you can use this link: http://bit.ly/1CiG0J8 Keep in mind, when you book on CheapAir.com, if the price for the same itinerary goes down any time before your trip, we’ll pay you back the difference in the form of a travel voucher for up to $100 per ticket! Please let us know if you need any help with finding flights.

  18. Six of us will be traveling from BUF to SAV on Jan. 7, 2015 and returning Jan. 9 or 10. Are these dates still considered “holiday travel”? When should I book?
    Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Chelly,

      In checking the fares, the prices look to be about the same for both Jan 9th or the 10th. I’d recommend booking your flights sooner than later since we’re about 9 to 10 weeks prior to your departure, you need six seats, and you’re flying to/from smaller airports with less flight options. To view flight schedules and book, you can use this link: http://bit.ly/13pzqGL Keep in mind, when you purchase flights with CheapAir if the price for the same itinerary goes down any time before your trip, we’ll pay you back the difference in the form of a travel voucher for up to $100 per ticket! Please let us know if you need any help with finding flights.

    1. Hi Antonio,

      Planning ahead for the holidays is a wise move. Unfortunately airlines only release flight scheduled 330 days out from the current date, so you can’t check pricing just yet. With that being said, I would strongly recommend having your flights booked by July to be safe. You don’t necessarily want to book once the flights become available, but booking early summer would be a good bet. Keep in mind, when you purchase flights with CheapAir if the price for the same itinerary goes down any time before your trip, we’ll pay you back the difference in the form of a travel voucher for up to $100 per ticket! Please let us know if you need any help with finding flights.

  19. Is June still the recommended time to check airfare for Christmas 2015?

    I noticed Delta has been increasing this fare over the past week.

    Southwest has yet to post fares.

    All other airlines are much higher than Delta

    1. Hi Chris,

      You could probably hold off till about July or even August, but definitely want to get the flights booked earlier than normal since the holidays are the peak time for traveling.

  20. Hello 2 of us are planning to travel to oax from tij on jan 11 to jan 25 do you recomend to wait after holidays to book, or what would you recommend we do. Thanks for helping…☺

    1. Hi Indira,most of our advice is from US destinations both domestic and international so i can’t tell you with 100% conviction that you should adopt strategy A, B or C. We do know that it is usually best to purchase your flights around 3-4 months from your travel date to get the best fares. Not to say that prices could be low after the holidays – but the closer you get to the flight date is generally going to be a more expensive ticket.

  21. Hi, My fiance and i are going to have a destination wedding in cancun between Nov 23 and 27th. both sides of families will go with us. I am so frustrating now because i have to watch the price for them too. current price is up to $650, Should i still wait for the price drop a little bit or book it as sooner as i can ?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Jenny, You are traveling during Thanksgiving week so I would not put off purchasing, especially since you have to buy for other family members. The airlines generally have a small number of seats available at quite a few different rice points, If you are buying for a group, you want to get the best available fare for all. Good luck to you!

  22. Traveling to Cancun November 17-24 (sat-sat). 7 people in our family. We live in mid-missouri, so can choose to leave either from St louis or Kansas city. Current flight prices are about $600, but it looks like some airlines (Southwest, for example) can’t search that far ahead in the calendar yet, so I’m not sure if it would be wise to wait. Advice?

    1. Hi Diane, I’m afraid we might not be much additional help this year. Because of the terrible hurricane season last year, a lot of people have been avoiding Mexico (which made recent flights really inexpensive). But now, it seems as though travelers are getting wind of the lower costs right now. That, coupled with the fact that many Caribbean destinations will still not be back open for business by November, might make Cancun more popular than it usually is that time of year. I might take a watch and wait approach – just checking in from time to time and striking when you see a good fare. I’ve seen anywhere from $400-600 from your location, but you are looking for 7 tickets. If you need them all on the same flight, you might have to book sooner to get a good fare (sometimes there are only 10 or so tickets at one price on a flight). If the airline algorithms can’t price a flight for 7 at the lowest fare, they just bump ALL tickets to the next fare category. So it’s a few different things to watch.

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