If you plan on flying anywhere over Thanksgiving or Christmas, now might be the best time to buy your tickets. By booking a flight in September, rather than waiting until closer to the holidays, you could potentially save hundreds of dollars, says CheapAir.com CEO Jeff Klee.
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That's because the biggest factor influencing airfares is how full a flight is, Klee says. Once a flight is booked beyond a certain level, fares for that flight start increasing. Given that most flights fill up around the holidays, you're more likely to get a better price the sooner you book.
However, you should be aware that you're probably not going to find great deals. For example, if you see airlines advertising a fare sale now, don't assume those low prices will be available for holiday travel. In fact, fares for round-trip flights during the long Thanksgiving weekend are $160 more, on average, than they are for the rest of fall and winter, Klee says. So if you travel a particular route often, don't expect to see during peak holiday travel times the same standard fare you normally pay, he says. And think hard before holding out in hopes of a price drop because the trend for fares "will be up, up, up" between now and November, Klee says.
There are several things you can also do, other than booking early, to save money on holiday airfare.
Be flexible.The price of flights during the holidays can vary greatly depending on the days you travel. For example, Klee says that you can save, on average, $50 round-trip by departing the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and returning the Saturday after rather than the Wednesday before and Sunday after because the latter two days are peak travel days. CheapAir.com has a calendar that shows the best days to fly for the holidays. And you can use a use a flexible search option on travel booking sites, such as the ones at Bing Travel or Kayak.com, to see which days have the best fares.
Check alternate airports. Most large cities have several airports nearby, and the difference in fares for flights into those various airports can be dramatic. So Klee recommends checking prices on flights to all of the airports in or around the city you're visiting. If you're traveling to a midsize city with just one airport, look for cheaper flights to other nearby cities. If you were planning on renting a car anyway, driving an hour or so to get from the alternate airport to your final destination probably is worth it. If you weren't going to rent a car but will need to if you fly into an alternate airport, make sure the cost of the rental doesn't match or exceed the cost of flying directly to your destination.
Mix and match airlines. If you can't get a nonstop flight to your destination, you might be able to save money by flying on different airlines for the various legs of your trip. Check the prices on flights to the various hubs you'd likely be routed through, then check on flights from those hubs to your final destination.
Keep an eye on your fare after you buy because most airlines and online travel agencies will give you a rebate -- usually in travel credits or vouchers -- if your flight's price drops below what you paid. You can sign up on Yapta.com to receive alerts if the price drops on a flight you've booked. Be aware, though, that some airlines can charge hefty fees for re-booking your flight to get a lower fare. It's not worth it to make a change if the fee outweighs your rebate.
However, if you book a ticket through CheapAir.com, you can get a credit of up to $100 for future travel if the price of your ticket drops. You don't have to re-book your flight (and possibly incur fees) to take advantage of the site's Price Drop Payback credit.
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