When should I buy holiday flights?

If your knee jerk reaction to this question is “Not yet, for crying out loud,” we get it. We really do. After all, who really wants to think about Christmas flights months in advance? But here’s the thing. We wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t share the cold hard facts about the best time to buy holiday airline tickets.

holiday flights 2016

When you wait until November or December to pick up those flights, you’re almost surely going to pay more. And paying more for airline tickets is the last thing you want to do at the time of year when you want your extra cash in hand. Our airfare research can and should save you money!

Each year, we track on a daily basis more than 11,000 popular airfares for the holidays, including Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, to help you pinpoint the best time to buy holiday flights. It’s really as simple as that. To kick off this year’s Holiday Cheap Flights Report, we thought we’d take a look back at the last year (2015) and share some intriguing trends in airline ticket costs.

Thanksgiving Airfare
In 2015, September was the best time to buy Thanksgiving flights. The lowest airfares increased $38 for passengers who waited until October to book their Thanksgiving flights. And if they really procrastinated and bought in November? The lowest airfare was, on average, $52 more, and those were on less desirable itineraries with more stops at less convenient times. So if you’re a family of 4, you saved $200 and got better flights by booking earlier.

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Christmas & New Years Airfare
The obvious takeaway from our Christmas/New Years flight data is not to wait until December to buy. Travelers who waited until December to purchase Christmas flights paid, on average, almost $110 more per ticket than if they bought in September. In October, the lowest fares were only $15 more. So if you’re going to procrastinate, your wallet will take the smallest hit if you buy in October. From there, those who put off purchase until November spent about $50 more per airline ticket. Keep in mind, you’ll also find more seats on “better” flights when booking before December.

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We’re a bit of a broken record. Kind of a benevolent backseat driver. A little mosquito around your ear buzzing, “don’t wait to buy that ticket to visit mom and dad! Don’t overpay!” In fact, every darn year we start to talk about holiday airfares in late summer. And every darn year, people choose to wait. And wait. And sometimes wait a little more. Don’t. Inexpensive flights in September will start a gradual (and then steep) climb the closer we get to the holiday weeks. As this climb gets underway, our blog and call center will get inundated with frustrated passengers who waited just a little too late to buy.

Now is actually the best time to start searching for holiday flights and gearing up to buy as soon as you see a good deal. If you see a decent price, don’t assume you can go away for a few days to think about it, and then come back to find the same airfare. Many people are searching the same itineraries. The savviest customers will jump on a hot price because they simply don’t last. Be proactive this year and you might save big.

Want help? Email us. Don’t forget to check our Holiday Flights Report whenever you think about holiday flights as we’ll bring you more tips, updates and travel hacks to make this holiday season your most budget-friendly on record!

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10 Comments

  1. We are planning a family vacation in March 2017. 6 adults, two of which are 62. 6 children 6 to 13 years of age. We will either be going to Antigua or somewhere in the Eastern Carribian. Not set in stone. What can you tell us about when an how to find the cheapest flights? Thank you

    1. Hi Patrick, Every year we make some specific recommendations about the best time to buy. This year, we recommended almost a year out (320 days to be exact–to Caribbean destinations): https://www.cheapair.com/blog/travel-tips/when-to-buy-international-flights/. Now, here’s the thing. This is an average of all Caribbean destinations and there are factors that can affect these recommendations. For example, you are looking to buy a total of 6 tickets. If you need to all fly on the same airplane and you’re looking to get the same fare, you should already be looking to buy because there are a small number of tickets available on any given flight at a certain price point. The other factor that could be key (in your situation) is that March in the Caribbean is spring break season (for college students as well as families). What I’m saying is that it’s wise of you to be looking now (and you should probably plan to buy sooner rather than later). Good luck to you!

  2. We’re coming from Australia into Boston September 2017 and flying out of New Orleans October….when is the best time to purchase for this type of flight…/Also waiting on a cruise price to drop for October next year….don’t like paying full price, but need to be organised if flights come u[

    1. Hi Roz, We are a U.S. based company so much of our airfare intelligence is aimed at the North American traveler (outbound). We recommend purchasing flights your way at nearly a year out. I can tell you that you’re not coming at high season for travel to either New Orleans or Boston (but it’s fantastic timing for good weather). There are always a TON of cultural/music festivals in Nawlins, so have a look at an events calendar before booking to make sure you’re avoiding peak travel days.

  3. Hello i was wondering when would be the best time to purchase airline tickets my birthday is December 19th and my husband birthday 26th we would like to travel the day of my birthday and return the day after the 26th of December

    1. Hi Victoria, It is not too early for you to book, since you’re looking to book during the very busy Christmas week. I’m not sure where you are going, but I would definitely book now if you’re looking to book international or before the end of this month for domestic destinations. Good luck to you.

  4. Hello. I was wondering about your advice for when to purchase for 2 adults and 2 kids travelling from DC area to Sydney, Australia from around the 10th of December to the 30th. The dates are somewhat flexible by a few days on both ends. Thanks!

    1. Hi Gary, You should plan on booking sooner rather than later. You’re flying on the outbound flight at a pretty affordable time to go in December, but your return is during one of the busiest and most expensive times of the year. To get the best airfares for a family of 4, you should plan to book far out. We do make recommendations each year as to the best time to buy international fares by destination. The 2017 study is not out yet, but if you use 2016 as a guide, you should be buying soon: https://www.cheapair.com/blog/travel-tips/when-to-buy-international-flights/.

    1. Hi Joyce, You’re traveling over a busy period (the last week of the year to the first week of the next year). These flights fill up at an accelerated pace. It’s not too early to start your search right now, especially since you’re looking for 4 tickets. Check out our Holiday Flights page https://www.cheapair.com/blog/holiday-flights/ for more helpful information.

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