You've barely had time to recover from last month's candy corn coma, and now it's already time to tackle the holidays. Who's gonna host this year? Is your cousin still vegan? Will your sister bring whatshisface? Will Uncle Dave's political rants finally cause your eyes to roll a complete orbit around your head? Most importantly, how are you getting there and what's it gonna cost you?
Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you shop for tickets this season.
1. The more flexible you are with travel times, the more luck you'll have landing a deal. You'll find it cheaper to fly on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day than on peak holiday dates. I know, I know, you want to leave after 5pm on Wednesday. So does everyone else. That's why those fares are the highest. Instead of departing on Wednesday night, try Tuesday morning, and instead of returning Sunday, how about searching for an early weekday return? We recently found spotted Los Angeles to Miami, nonstop, for just $177, searching off-peak dates. An excellent fare!
2. In previous years, we've noticed that many routes were quite high for peak holiday travel, but a couple of weeks before the holidays airlines reduced fares on less popular flight times, such as early morning departures (those dreaded 6 a.m. flights) and red eye flights. As such, people who bought far ahead ended up overpaying. It's impossible to generalize if and when airlines will decide to adjust holiday fares if seats are going begging on certain routes. We're already seeing excellent last minute sales from Southwest for both peak Thanksgiving travel and Christmas/New Year's dates!
3. Due to airline consolidation and capacity cuts, be warned that fares along certain routes may be nowhere near what you paid a few seasons ago. Them's the breaks!
4. On the flip side, in markets where service has been recently boosted, you may even be pleasantly surprised to find fares lower than five years ago. So don't be discouraged by years past!
5. Although you might pay a bit less by grabbing the last seat on an inconvenient flight time closer to the holidays, if you want to choose your favorite seat or preferred flight times, you're probably better off booking early. As in yesterday! This is especially true if there are several of you flying together and you don't want to all end up sitting far apart from one another.
6. In general, you can save money on peak holiday travel by taking connecting flights rather than nonstop flights. But since winter weather can really foul up a connection, you're better off splurging for the nonstop. Unless you're okay with the possibility of celebrating Thanksgiving alone on the floor of Dulles with the world's saddest plate of Panda Express.
7. If you're worried about overpaying and are the kind of person who second guesses your buying decisions, remember that some carriers will give you a voucher towards for future travel, without extracting a rebooking fee, if the fare goes down between the time you buy and the time you fly. More on fare drop policies here.
8. While fares to grandma's house may look ridiculously expensive, international fares are often quite reasonable. Sometimes even in Business Class. So gently break the news to the fam, you're skipping turkey for Turkey this year, or use the holiday to check out some other far-flung place you've been meaning to visit, such as Tokyo, Paris, Lima, or Beijing.
9. With peak holiday fares so high, holiday travel is generally a good time to cash in frequent flyer miles, assuming that award seats are available for the route you're flying.
10. And as always, sign up for airfare alerts.