While summer may not be over yet, it’s time to start thinking about booking holiday flights if you’re looking for a bargain.
Thanksgiving and Christmas flights have already started to increase over the past few months, but the good news is that there are still potential deals, said Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights. Travel + free time.
In fact, the worst thing anyone can do is wait until the last minute, hoping prices will drop (because spoiler: they probably won’t).
“It’s hard and somewhat rare to see cheap holiday flights – they do happen, but they happen well in advance … when everyone else is thinking about their summer flights,” Keyes said. “The best fares were probably a month or two ago, and now most of the fares are just decent, but they are very likely to get much more expensive in the coming months.”
Take note of the tips below to book holiday flights and hopefully save in the process.
The time to book is now
In general, the best time to find a flight for Thanksgiving is 36 to 74 days before departure (think: right after Labor Day), while the average price for Christmas flights tends to drop 22 days before departure, according to Google data , shared with T+L . But the search engine warns it could be “shortened” as Christmas prices can drop anywhere between 20 and 88 days before departure.
“It’s a good idea to book early for any major vacation, especially if you already know your destination and travel dates,” James Byers, group product manager at Google Flights, told T+L. “That way, you can be sure you won’t miss the specific flights that best suit your travel plans.”
The good news for travelers is that many airlines in the United States have eliminated cancellation and change fees, allowing travelers to book now and rebook later if they find a cheaper deal.
“It gives you a lot more opportunities to take advantage if you fail at just the right time,” Keyes said. “It gives you the opportunity to have a ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ situation with the airlines, which was quite rare before.”
Consider international activity
Another way to save on a dream vacation abroad is to go during Thanksgiving week, when international flight prices tend to drop, Keyes says. A flight from New York to Lisbon this week, for example, costs less than a flight from New York to Minneapolis.
“Thanksgiving is my hidden best week for international travel,” he said. “People don’t associate Thanksgiving with cheap flights because everyone is traveling domestically. All those people who travel domestically don’t travel abroad, and late November is a low season.”
Travelers probably won’t find the same level of discounts over Christmas, but winter flights generally start to drop in price.
“Summer travel is usually quite a bit more expensive than autumn travel and this has worsened this year due to pent-up demand. I think that has largely started to dissipate,” Keyes said. “I think we’re going to go into something closer to renormalization.” This will mean still expensive flights over the holidays, but extremely cheap flights in the fall and winter, except for those weeks.”
Book strategically to minimize disruptions
After a summer of chaos that saw more than 100,000 U.S. flights canceled and nearly a million delayed, it’s fair to try anything to stay above the fray. In general, airline delays are usually due to a combination of staff shortages and air traffic control issues, and several airlines have reduced fall schedules in an effort to minimize disruptions, including American Airlines and United Airlines.
Opting for early morning flights and direct flights are two “tried and true strategies” travelers can use for a smoother trip, Keyes said.
However, choosing only direct flights, for example, came with a trade-off: on average, direct tickets were 20% more expensive than those with layovers, according to Google.
Alison Fox is a contributor to Travel + Leisure. When she’s not in New York, she enjoys spending time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.