Travelers nationwide are just finally getting around to looking at flights for Thanksgiving only to see sky-high prices at checkout. Learn from their mistake: It's time to book your flights home for Christmas, New Year's, and all the winter holidays soon – if not now.
Trust us, waiting too long could be a very costly mistake. While Christmas itself is still just under two months away, it might be the busiest stretch of travel we've seen yet – and the same goes for Thanksgiving next month. All that travel demand of Americans racing home for the holidays is a recipe for high airfare.
Just like there's no best day to book flights, there's no ironclad rule on how far in advance you should book no matter when or where you're traveling. Flight pricing is unpredictable, and it's possible that you might see prices drop as late December draws near … but the odds are much greater that you wind up paying far more by waiting.
And Google Flights has some solid data based on crunching five years of airfare that backs us up. The web giant crunched the numbers and found that if you're looking to fly domestically over Christmas, you'll likely find the lowest flight prices booking between 54 and 78 days before travel – that means the best deals are all gone by about Nov. 1. We're currently in the sweet spot to find the best deals for flights around Christmas – and you'll want to book long before early December.
Even if you're not ready to book just yet, go set a Google Flights Price Alert for your Christmastime travel plans so you get an alert when prices drop or increase. That could give you a critical heads-up on when it's time to book flights.
Thrifty Tip: Whenever you buy, book at least a standard economy ticket – not a basic economy fare. That way, if prices do decrease after your purchase, you can rebook your flights and pocket the difference as an airline voucher.
Other Tips to Save on Christmas Flights
Beyond booking before prices shoot up, we've got a few easy-to-understand tips you can follow to save – and save big – on flights over the December holidays.
Shift Your Travel Dates (A Bit)
We have a rule here at Thrifty Traveler to save on airfare. It's called The Flight First Rule.
And it's exactly what it sounds like: Rather than locking in your travel dates now and going to book, start by searching for flights, letting the price guide you to the cheapest dates possible. It's absolutely critical around busy travel holidays like Christmas.
We know you want to fly out on Dec. 22 or 23 and return for work on the 26th … but so does everyone else. And the airlines know that. They're some of the busiest travel days of the entire year, so those itineraries around Christmas are almost always the most expensive fares you'll find in December – or the entire year.
For example, travelers looking to fly from New York City to Chicago on Friday, Dec. 22, and return on Tuesday, Dec. 26 can currently expect to pay almost $500 roundtrip – or substantially more if you're not up for a 6 a.m. departure.
But what if you give yourself just a bit of flexibility? Many Americans have more freedom to work remotely these days. So if you leave on the Wednesday (two days earlier) and still return the following Monday, you can drop those fares by $100 or more.
Do you want to fly on Christmas Day? Maybe not … and I can't blame you for that. But if you're up for it, flying in (or out) on Dec. 25 can often result in some of the cheapest fares, like these sub-$300 flights on the same route.
This may well not work for everyone's work and personal schedule, but it showcases the power of flexibility when flying around the holidays. And while this is just one example, the same pattern plays out whether you're flying from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Los Angeles (LAX), all the way across the country to rejoin family for the holidays, or in and out of small towns nationwide.
Use Google Flights
Forget Expedia, Kayak, Skyscanner, and Hopper. No matter when or where you're traveling, Google Flights is the best search platform out there. But for expensive holiday travel, its powerful features to help you find the cheapest fare make Google Flights invaluable.
- Its easy-to-navigate interface includes a calendar function, showing dates in green that offer the cheapest fares.
- Google Flights will even give you a pop-up alert if shifting your dates will save you money.
- You can quickly filter by airline, flight times, nonstops or one-stops, and more to see only the flights you want
- Google Flights Price Alerts can help you track prices on your route, booking when prices drop.
- Google allows you to search to and from up to seven airports at once, casting a wide net to find the best deals
- Flying in or out of cities with multiple airports like New York, Washington, D.C., or Chicago? Just type in the city name and Google Flights will display results from all of them.
Read our full guide with everything you need to know about using Google Flights!
Waiting to book a flight home for Christmas and the holidays is not a sound strategy.
Could prices drop over the next few weeks? Sure, in theory. But they're far, far more likely to go up (and keep going up) as the holidays draw closer, with travelers hitting the skies in record numbers.
And that means you should look for and book your flights sooner rather than later.