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Holiday travel: What to know before you book flights for Thanksgiving, Christmas

Hopper Lead Economist Hayley Berg details how expensive holiday travel is already forecasted to be and how to save on travel bookings.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: Well, speaking of traveling, millions are getting ready to hit the skies this holiday season. And if you're one of those travelers, you better get ready to pay more. Flights this holiday season are expected to be at the highest levels that we've seen in five years. For more on that, we want to bring in Hayley Berg, Hopper's lead economist. Hayley, it's great to see you again. So I guess, first, how many people are expected to travel, and how much more should people be prepared to pay this year?

HAYLEY BERG: We're expecting to see a huge surge in travel over this holiday season. Keep in mind that in 2020 and in 2021, we saw huge depression in travel demand at the holidays. We had the active pandemic in 2020. And then last year, we saw the Delta and the Omicron waves knock out thousands of flights over the holiday season.

So we know that travelers have pent-up demand for holiday travel traditions, visiting family, vacations. And we're expecting to see a very busy holiday season. And with that super high demand, we're expecting to see the highest prices, especially for Christmas, that we've seen in more than five years.

SEANA SMITH: Hayley, if you're trying to determine when is the best time to fly, any tips there?

HAYLEY BERG: Absolutely. If you're traveling for Thanksgiving, your best bet is to travel on Monday before Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving Day if you can. Do not try to fly home on that weekend after Thanksgiving. Those will be the busiest airports and the highest prices.

With Christmas over a weekend, we're expecting to see a lot of travel dispersed across the days before. So as early as you can travel for the holidays in December, the better off you are in terms of price, but also availability of flights. Capacity is lower this year than it was in 2019, so flights will sell out, and they will sell out early.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: And Hayley, what are you seeing in terms of what people are willing to spend depending on where they're flying to, whether it's domestic or international?

HAYLEY BERG: We're seeing right now that airfare for Christmas, for example, is already at about $440 per domestic ticket, international fares over $1,200. And we're expecting those prices to rise as we get closer to the holidays. Unfortunately, something coming out of the pandemic is travelers are planning to travel more last minute. And that means it's harder to find deals. If you're not planning far in advance, using a price monitoring tool, it's harder to find those one-time price drops or sales that are going to help you get a great deal.

So we're expecting that travelers who are planning ahead either for Thanksgiving or Christmas, they're going to be paying between $300 and $450 for their holiday travel. But those last minute travelers, we're expecting to see prices well over $500 for Christmas and well over $400 for Thanksgiving.

DAVE BRIGGS: So Hayley, how do we use these price monitoring tools you just referred to?

HAYLEY BERG: So using a tool like Hopper, where you put in the destination that you're going to and the dates you're traveling and getting proactive notifications about your trip and the price, that's the best way to take advantage of deals. So we're going to do the hard work for you. We're going to be checking the price at 4:00 AM on Saturday and 2:00 PM on Tuesday every single day and notifying you what the best price is, is it available now, should you book now. That is key.

We see at Hopper that travelers who start planning their holiday vacations around now or even earlier will save about 18% more than those who plan very last minute. With prices high this year, that's $80 per ticket or more just by planning ahead and using a price monitoring tool. So download an app like Hopper, get those live updates, and hopefully, you will see significant savings for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, whatever travel you're planning next.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: It's interesting because you say, obviously, the last minute bookings for flights, that's a big no-no, but not the case for hotels. Why the difference there?

HAYLEY BERG: Yes, this is a little bit of a confusing one for travelers who know don't book your flight last minute. Hotels are very different. So when you're going to a big city-- think New York City, Los Angeles-- those cities have a tremendous amount of inventory, rooms available to book. So it's harder to sell out a city like New York City, especially over the holidays. If you're planning to go to one of those big cities, booking at the last minute, you're going to get those price drops that hotels put out there to try to fill the rest of their rooms and probably get a really great deal.

So if you're going somewhere big with a lot of hotel inventory, you can wait until the last minute to book your hotel, as long as you're flexible on where you stay. The specific hotel you want to stay at may be sold out. So if you can be a bit flexible booking at the last minute, if you are going to a vacation destination, anywhere in Florida, anywhere with a lot of resorts, book those in advance. Those will sell out.

DAVE BRIGGS: And most of the time at the holidays, we're traveling to a predetermined destination to see family. But if we're not, if we're just looking to get away and to go somewhere warm, how do we find, like, a great deal if we are, to your word, if we're flexible?

HAYLEY BERG: Mm-hmm. Flexibility is key. It's the best way to get a good price. So using a price monitoring tool is another way that you can see all of the best options available to you. So on Hopper, for example, you can track the price of many different destinations. Say you're interested in a Caribbean getaway. You can track all of the different islands you might be interested in visiting and get live updates of what's the price of this destination versus this one. If you travel a few days later, can you get a better price and go to the same island? So we'll do that work for you.

But typically, over the holidays, we see that international destinations often have sales or lower prices, given most people are going to that set hometown destination over the holidays. So flexibility is key, but let an app like Hopper do the work for you so that you're not browsing and looking up prices constantly, trying to figure out where is the best destination at the lowest price. That's what our price monitoring and watching does for you.

DAVE BRIGGS: Hayley Berg, Hopper lead economist, thanks for being here. Appreciate it.