You needn't pray for a good holiday airfare. Just use some strategies to find one. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Even though you cringe when you see Christmas decorations already on display in department stores, there is one bit of holiday shopping you ought to do right now: airfares.
Travel experts say mid-October is the latest you can wait to get the best selection and the most decent prices. Although conventional wisdom says you'll find bargains if you put buying off until until the last minute, that does not seem to apply when it comes to flying during Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The Huffington Post asked the airfare site Kayak to track the best prices for holiday airfares. It said the best period to purchase fares is from Labor Day through mid-October, which means there's still some time left.
By late October, airfares for domestic travel increased by 17 percent for Thanksgiving, 51 percent for Christmas and 25 percent for New Year's Eve. Airfares for international travel also go up the closer the holiday looms.
Along with early booking, it's important to be as flexible as possible in days and airport destinations. Your best bet is also to fly as early in the day as you can stand. See more tips for plotting holiday travel in the gallery below.
We often think of the holidays as a time when families are traveling together. But many people are traveling by themselves - some out of choice, others out of necessity. Janice Waugh at Solo Traveler says individual travelers need to plot their own strategies for surviving holiday crowds.
Says Waugh: "You first need to set your sights on the kind of travel you want to do and where you want to do it." One recommendation: book your airfare, and then immediately book your hotel and where you want to eat on the holiday. Choices of holiday dining are often limited. If you want a turkey dinner in Paris, start looking for one now.
Another thing to remember is that in some places, the day after Christmas, which the English call Boxing Day, is a holiday. Stores and restaurants might be closed. On the other hand, if you've spent enough time with family or friends, it's a perfect day to fly home.
One consolation for this year's travelers: airlines are having a hard time making fare increases stick. On the flip side, they're collecting more fees than ever. So, even if you snap what looks like a cheap fare, remember to factor in all the add-ons that you'll need to get where you're going for the holidays.