The brisk fall weather means pumpkin spice lattes and hayrack rides, but for many travelers it also means stress — as planning for the dreaded holiday travel season begins.
In 2015, AAA reported that 46.9 million Americans traveled for Thanksgiving, with about 12 million deciding to fly. During Christmas and New Years Eve, things get even more chaotic, with nearly 100 million travelers hitting the skies and highways. Airlines intentionally bump up domestic airfare prices during November and December to deal with the demand, which can make finding a good deal difficult — but not entirely impossible. The key is deciding WHEN to book.
For help, it’s wise to set a price alert on your favorite travel booking site like Hopper, Kayak, Skyscanner or Airfare Watchdog. This way, experts can analyze the travel data and let you know when the lowest ticket prices are available. In the meantime, here are some general guidelines for deciding when to book your holiday travel.
According to Skyscanner, the week of Oct. 31 is the best time to book air travel for Thanksgiving. The holiday falls on Nov. 24, which is the same weekend as last year, so the global travel search company looked at 2015’s data to make a prediction. If booked during this period about four weeks before Turkey Day, tickets will be about 7.7% cheaper than average.
This time frame matches up with Kayak, which suggests booking airfare for Thanksgiving about two to four weeks in advance. The travel booking site also mentions that flying on Thanksgiving day is the best way to save money. According to its data, travelers who depart or return on Thanksgiving Day typically pay 30% less for fares. With that said, delays are to be expected during holiday travel, so weigh the risks if you decide to travel on the day-of. As an alternative, if you can tolerate the extra family time, Kayak also suggests staying through the weekend to pay less. Last year, travelers who departed on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving saved about 20% compared to other travelers.
Keep in mind that Oct. 31 is a great time to book if you’re traveling solo, but not necessarily if you’re traveling with your family. Many travelers start to book holiday travel in September, which means the planes are already starting to fill up. If you’re looking to book three to five seats on a plane, it would be wise to book now to avoid the headache of seat shortages down the road.
Christmas and New Year’s Eve
Riding on a one-horse open sleigh might sound idyllic, but it’s certainly not the best way to get home for the holidays. Many of us have to fly, and when it comes to Christmas, the most affordable time to book airfare is around Thanksgiving. According to Skyscanner, travelers who book airfare the week of Nov. 21 can save about 6.41% compared to the average ticket price. Booking about three weeks out can feel a bit stressful, but again, it might pay to wait if you just need one ticket.
Similar to Thanksgiving, traveling on Christmas day typically yields airfare about 14% cheaper than other tickets — but it’s a risky choice. It’s important to consider the likelihood of travel delays, and the possibility that one small glitch could result in missing the holiday with your family.
As for New Year’s Eve, tickets are predicted to be 10.57% cheaper the week of Dec.5. Flying on New Year’s Day is also a bit cheaper … if you don’t mind traveling with a hangover.
Brittany is a writer at Yahoo Finance.