Updated on September 9th 2015.
As we say so long to summer, it's time to talk holidays. Who's hosting this year? Does your cousin eat gluten? How does one safely pack 12 jars of homemade jalapeno pepper jelly? More importantly, what should you expect to spend on a flight home? Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you shop around for holiday fares.
1. The more flexible you are with travel times, the more luck you'll have landing a deal. You'l 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 were hoping to leave after 5pm on Wednesday. So was everyone else!
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. But 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.
4. On the flip side, in markets where service has been recently boosted (as is the case here), 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 now. 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 each other.
6. In general, you can save money on peak holiday travel by taking connecting flights rather than nonstop flights. But since winter weather can foul up connections, 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 $12 slice of pizza.
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.
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.