Experts say that holiday airfare is about to start rising as the leaves change. If you haven't begun looking at your flight options for Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year's, you may be surprised at what you find.
The best time to book holiday airfare is in the middle of October. We are at the month's halfway point, and within 40 days of Thanksgiving.
According to data shared with TPG Saturday by booking site Hopper, Thanksgiving domestic flights average $271 round-trip. That's in line with what we've seen recently. Depending on your destination and travel dates, you could be facing a much higher price tag.
For a domestic round-trip flight, the fares are 40% higher for Christmas.
That's not to say that there isn't still a decent deal out there. It has been a volatile year for airfare, which makes the price you pay all the more unpredictable.
After two years of disruptions due to the Pandemic, interest in travel roared back to life in the first half of 2022. As passengers began to satisfy their desire to travel late in the summer, prices came down a bit, but have generally remained higher than in previous years.
Demand is still there even though summer is over. The Friday before the Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends have been the busiest days for passenger traffic since the beginning of the Pandemic.
The demand will be there for the holidays. Experts say not to wait any longer to book as the season draws closer.
Scott Keyes, founder of airfare tracking site Scott's Cheap Flights, said that airfare goes one direction in the last weeks before travel.
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There are still a lot of people who want to go away for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's who need to book. If you haven't locked in airfare for the holidays yet, here are some tips and advice.
The good news when it comes to Thanksgiving airfare is that the prices are a lot better than what you'll find for Christmas, and that the prices have gone down a bit in the last few weeks.
Experts say you will not want to wait.
If you want to have your airfare locked in by the start of November, Keyes said, you'll want to do that by 21 days out from your departure date. If you're going to fly the day before Thanksgiving, it's November 2.
By the time November rolls around, I would not expect anything to be cheap.
Thanksgiving prices will likely rise by $10 per day once Halloween is over, according to Hopper's lead economist. She warns that if you wait until the last minute, you'll pay an average of $450-plus round-trip. The reason to book sooner is because of that.
Travelers have been told to book Thanksgiving flights by Thanksgiving in the past.
There has been a shift in the years since. All of your holiday travel should be booked as soon as possible.
It's a good idea to book Christmas flights early because prices for the end-of-year holidays are very high. As of this weekend, Hopper says Christmas domestic round trips are around $390, a slight change from a couple of weeks ago.
The '21 days out' rule applies to Christmas, too, so keep it in mind.
You are unlikely to win even if you wait until then.
If you find flights with a convenient schedule and fares that fit your budget, book them, according to Henry Harteveldt. Don't play the system.
It might seem a bit daunting to book all of your holiday trips at the same time. It can take a long time for holiday plans to be solidified.
Can you change your travel plans if you find a cheaper flight later? Can you cancel your flight? Yes, but with some important caveat to know.
You don't have to pay a change fee on the four largest US carriers. If you find a cheaper flight down the road, you can rebook and get airline flight credits for the difference between the two flights, which can be used on a future trip. When using miles in some programs, you can choose to get a full refund.
If you want to change an international flight, you need to check your carrier's individual policy.
If you think you might want to make a change later on, a regular economy ticket is better than a basic economy ticket.
If you're just starting to check airfare for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's and are finding the prices a bit daunting, here are some tricks and tactics you can use.
If you find travel prices are too high, you might be able to be more flexible. If you have fewer requirements for your travel needs, you can capture the best deals.
I'm in Washington, D.C., and I want to go to Columbus, Ohio, to see my family for Thanksgiving. I have to leave from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport no later than 5 pm on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I put a lot of filters on my travel to make sure I don't get ripped off.
The cheapest itinerary I could find was on American Airlines.
Adding a little flexibility to my search is something I would like to do. Is it possible to work from home on the days leading into and/or out of the holiday? Expanding my search to include other D.C. airports might be a good idea. It would be helpful.
There is a $277 round-trip departing from Dulles International Airport on Wednesday evening and returning the Monday after the holiday. It's a savings of almost 50%.
If you have to spend more nights in a hotel because of the longer trip, it can eat up your savings. If you're happy to stay with family for a few more days, it could be a way to save some money and still have a good time.
It's a good idea to open up your search in order to increase the odds of finding better flight prices.
If you can't find a good price for the days surrounding the holiday, you might consider flying early on the holiday itself.
We don't like missing time with family. On the day itself, prices can be cheaper.
I have found holiday morning flights to be pleasant, with thinner crowds in the airports compared to the chaotic days surrounding the holidays.
It's something to consider if you're not finding any affordable flights immediately before or after the holiday, but it depends on your family's particular celebration plans.
It's possible to skirt high holiday airfares by going where the prices are cheaper. You don't have a lot of wiggle room if you have to go to a certain city during the holidays.
Is it possible to meet family in an alternative city instead of going to their house? Around Christmas and New Year's, could you choose an alternative vacation destination? If you think outside the box, you can choose airfare based on the best prices, instead of being stuck with a particular price for a city.
You can find airfare prices to places around the country and the globe on the dates you want to travel with the help of the internet search engine.
It is possible to put a hold on airfare if you are not completely sure of your plans.
American Airlines is exploring ending its courtesy holds for cash tickets, which is making it more difficult to do.
If you find a price and itinerary that works for your travel needs, but you aren't ready to book, some airlines will let you put a hold on airfare. It allows me to make up my mind more quickly.
If you pay a small fee to lock in airfare on United, you can either buy it or have it canceled.
If the airline doesn't allow you to hold a flight, federal regulations require them to allow you to cancel and get a full refund, so it's not a problem if you book your flight and then change your mind.
If you find a better price later, most airlines will allow you to cancel and switch to a new trip with no penalty.
Capital One's price protection feature can be used if you're shopping for holiday airfare and have a Capital One credit card.
Capital One has a relationship with Hopper that can be used to suggest when to book and when to wait. If the price suddenly drops, you can be eligible for a credit.
It is great to be able to book flights without having to pay with cash.
Be careful around the holidays to make sure you get a good redemption for your miles. The award prices may be even worse at Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. As airlines shift to revenue-based award pricing models, a layer of predictability can be removed from what you pay in points and miles.
It is possible to determine if you are better off using cash or your miles.
A bad value redemption can save you money. You won't have those miles when you want to book a vacation in the spring and summer.
Since there is virtually no business travel during holiday weeks, it is worth checking to see if there are good premium cabin awards available. Since U.S. programs now allow free changes or cancellation on awards, miles can be your backup plan.
If you are planning to fly for Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year's, act quickly.
It is possible that you waited until the weather got cooler to plan your holiday travel. Booking all of your travel as soon as possible is the best way to avoid the worst fares. Make sure to book those flexible car rentals and hotel reservations if you need them.
You can read more about booking holiday travel.