You've barely had time to recover from summer vacation, and now, somehow, it's already time to tackle the holidays. How many pies can you stack comfortably in a carry-on? Does the TSA categorize cranberry sauce as an actual liquid? (Yes. Yes, they do.) Who's gonna host this year? And most importantly, how are you getting there, and what's it all 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 dates and flight times, the more luck you'll have landing a deal. Typically, you'll find it cheaper to fly on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day than on peak holiday dates. Oh, you want to leave after 5pm on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving? Right. So does everyone else. That's why those fares are the most expensive. Instead of Wednesday night, try departing Tuesday morning, and instead of returning Sunday, how about searching for an early weekday return? We recently found spotted Newark to Cincinnati, nonstop, for just $286, leaving Wednesday at noon, returning bright and early the following Monday morning.
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.
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 O'Hare with a $5 footlong and an US Weekly.
7. If you need a sec to coordinate plans with family before booking, or if you're the sort of person who second guesses your buying decisions, remember that DOT regulations allow passengers a 24-period to either hold a fare or cancel a booking without penalty. So if something catches your eye, book fast and sort out the details later.
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 casserole for Casablanca this year, or use the holiday to check out some other far-flung place you've been meaning to visit, such as Shanghai, Mumbai, Nairobi, Bangkok, or Dublin.
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.