By Meghan Coyle | NerdWallet
If your swimsuit is still drying from your last trip or you’re packing for a Labor Day getaway, traveling for Thanksgiving or the winter holidays probably isn’t top of mind. After all, it’s not even September.
And remember last year when people were procrastinating and finding last-minute holiday travel deals? Well, the surge in air travel this year has changed all that.
The most recent data from Google Flights shows the lowest average price for flights starting in mid-December (around Christmas) are usually available around 71 days before departure. That’s a whopping six weeks earlier than Google’s findings last year when holiday prices were lowest about 22 days before departure.
So now, the best time to book your end-of-December flights is by mid-October. And if you apply the same thinking to Thanksgiving flights, you’ve got just a few weeks until you should book.
Thanksgiving flights will probably be cheapest around mid-September. Wait too long, and you might pay more, get stuck with an inconvenient layover or be forced to book basic economy (read: middle seat).
Here are some tips to save on holiday travel this year, whether you’re in the booking window or not.
Start tracking prices
No matter what you’ve heard, there are no hacks for getting cheap flights by booking on a Tuesday or late at night. Flight prices are at the mercy of travel demand, and the holidays are always a busy time to fly.
Fortunately, you don’t have to spend hours checking the demand.
Turn on price tracking on your preferred booking platform to get automatic email notifications when a flight you want goes down in cost. Search engines and online travel agencies have insights into the average costs for your specific route and nudge you when it’s the best time to book.
Book early for European travel
Don’t wait to book if you’re interested in going across the pond for the holidays. Europe travel is back to 2019 pre-pandemic levels, with almost 20 million people departing for the continent from January to July 2023, according to data from the International Trade Administration.
Data from Google Flights suggests the cheapest average prices for trans-Atlantic flights to Europe are 72 days or more before departure. In the 10 weeks before departure, airfares tend to increase.
One option to save money is to consider booking on an international budget airline, which can offer significant savings over legacy carriers, even when you factor in extra fees for baggage and meals.
You might also consider traveling internationally during Thanksgiving instead of Christmas or New Year’s. Because Thanksgiving is a U.S. holiday, there’s usually less demand to fly abroad since most people fly domestically for the feast.
Be flexible on your travel days
Being willing to accept the less-than-ideal flight will go a long way toward saving you money this holiday season.
If you find yourself outside of the best time to book holiday travel, you still have options. Consider extending your trip so you don’t have to fly on the busiest days around Thanksgiving (usually the Sunday after Thanksgiving) or Christmas. Check prices at nearby airports.
And remember, by the time you start seeing more Halloween decorations at stores, flight prices for November and December will only get spookier.
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