10 Tips for Booking Cheap Holiday Flights

If you haven't given much thought to this year's holiday plans, don't panic. At least not yet.

We're still seeing plenty of great deals for November and December, but will they stick around? When it comes to airfare, there are no guarantees. For that reason, you'd be wise to book very soon. 

How to Find a Cheap Flight for Holiday Travel

As you begin this year's search for a cheap holiday fare, remember these 10 tips.

1. Don't Wait Too Long. A really great fare can pop up at any time, and that even holds true for holiday fares. But waiting around until the last minute is a risk that most folks don’t want to take when it comes to planning for the holidays. That said, the earlier you start hunting, the better. If you spot something reasonable—or better yet, cheap—don’t dawdle. Book first, sort out the details later. If you realize after that your flight doesn't suit the rest of your family or friends, you have 24 hours to cancel without penalty under DOT law.

2. Be Flexible. Let me guess. You want to depart the Wednesday before Thanksgiving at around 6pm and return Sunday afternoon? So does everyone else. That’s why those fares are the most expensive. If your goal is to get there as cheaply as possible, try searching for off peak flights at unpopular travel times. The more flexible you are, the better your odds at finding a deal. If you can manage leaving work a day early, try a 6am flight on Tuesday morning. You’ll find some of the lowest fares are for travel at odd hours on the day of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

3. Picky Travelers Should Definitely Book Early. For those with very specific flight preferences who need a certain departure time or a particular seat on the plane, or even those with large families traveling together, it’s a good idea to stake your claim sooner rather than later. Sure, it may end up costing extra but the more desirable seats on the most convenient flight times are the first to fill up.

4. It's a Gamble, but Sometimes Fares Drop Later in the Season. Feeling lucky? If you’re okay taking the risk, you could try and hold out until a few weeks before the holiday. Airlines have been known to offer last minute reductions on early morning and late night redeye flights. You’re essentially playing a game of chicken with airline revenue managers, and there’s no guarantee fares will actually drop last minute.

5. Connecting vs. Nonstop. As with any time of year, connecting flights are typically cheaper than nonstops. Of course, that also increases your odds of a delay, or worse, a cancellation. If you do opt for a cheaper connecting flight, try and route yourself through southern airports less likely to be hit by winter storms, like Phoenix, Dallas, and Atlanta.

6. Don’t Expect to Pay What You’ve Paid in Previous Years. Recently hiked baggage fees are certain to have an impact on holiday travelers, along with capacity cuts and other factors. Then again, the opposite may be true in markets where new service has been added and you could wind up pleasantly surprised.

7. Consider Leaving the Country. Airfares don’t always make sense and this is especially true around the holidays. Case in point: why spend $600 just to wind up back in your hometown when a ticket to Rome is $150 less? International fares can sometimes cost less than domestic flights over the holidays, so dust off your passport and make a vacation of it.

8. Look for Bargains in Business. With fewer business folks traveling, the holidays are also a great time to find deals on international Business Class. British Airways often has excellent discounts on biz class seats to London and elsewhere in Europe.

9. Use Miles. If you've been squirreling away miles, the holidays could be the time to put 'em to use. That is, assuming there's availability for your flight.

10. Fares Can Change Several Times in a Day. Make sure you're on top of price fluctuations by setting an airfare alert. You don't want to miss out on holiday flash sales or promo code deals which tend to sell out very quickly.

Above image by Bochkarev Photography via Shutterstock