Plus, common holiday travel mistakes not to make.

By Alison Fox
September 12, 2019
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The holiday season is one of the busiest and most popular times to travel with people wanting to get home to family or go on a spectacular vacation with their time off. Experts say it’s also one of the most expensive times to travel and that waiting for the best price can actually come back to hurt you.

The Sunday after Thanksgiving is one of the busiest days of the year to fly, with everyone full of pumpkin pie and ready to get home before the work week starts on Monday, Scott Mayerowitz, the executive editorial director of The Points Guy, told Travel + Leisure. And while it may be tempting to constantly watch airline prices to get the best possible deal, Mayerowitz said it might be in your best interest to simply book the flight you see now rather than waiting.

“Yes, maybe the price might come down a little bit... however seats are going to fill up quickly on these key flights,” he said. “And the heartache and headache of constantly searching for the best airfare can drive you insane. And your time and sanity is worth something.”

That is especially true if you are limited in the number of airlines that fly to or from your destination, he said.

“The airlines have become more and more sophisticated in how they price out tickets. They have complicated algorithms based on past year ticket sales and what trends are happening in the current year, and they are now able to change prices constantly throughout the day,” he said. “It used to be that you would buy tickets on Tuesdays when they would go on sale. That’s no longer the case. Airlines reprice tickets constantly and on the holidays in particular, they know they are… able to charge a premium.”

Scott Keyes, the founder of Scott's Cheap Flights, told T+L that while the ideal time to book holiday travel is in the summer, the second-best time to book your Christmas and New Year’s tickets is right now.

“Once you get within three or four months, the chance of something cheap popping up for Christmas or New Year’s is not very likely,” he said. “Certainly don’t wait until the last week or two because prices are going to be way higher.”

Here are some tips to keep in mind as you book your holiday travel.

Book at least six weeks in advance.

The absolute worst time to book a holiday flight is one week before traveling, Mayerowitz said. Instead, leave yourself plenty of time before the holiday rush.

“The general rule is you always want to book your tickets at least three weeks in advance. For the holidays, I recommend at least doubling that if not more, particularly if you want a very specific flight,” Mayerowitz said, adding: “You’re really in trouble if you’re waiting until the last second to book a ticket.”

Try to be flexible.

While you may not want to fly on the morning of Thanksgiving, a little bit of flexibility on when you fly can go a long way. Keyes said it’s also possible to save money by looking at neighboring airports to fly to or from. For example, if you’re flying out of Philadelphia, Keyes said you might want to consider Newark as an alternative.

Consider two one-way flights.

This is not a hard-and-fast rule and may not always be cheaper, but Mayerowitz said that sometimes you’ll find a cheaper price going one one airline and a cheaper one coming back on another.

Connecting flights, however, are a different story.

“Connecting flights are sometimes cheaper, but in my mind are not worth it to save $10 or $15 [per] ticket, especially during the holidays,” Mayerowitz said. “During these peak travel days if anything goes wrong during your flight, there are very few open seats to accommodate you.”

Think about taking an international vacation on Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is a very busy time to fly domestically, but you can actually save a lot of money on international flights during that weekend.

“All those people who are traveling domestically are, by definition, not flying internationally,” Keyes said. “It’s actually one of the hidden best weeks for international travel.”

Another good option for a trip is early December or mid-January, which are some of the cheapest times of the year to fly (with plenty of great winter vacation ideas to plan for).

Know what you’re getting into with basic economy tickets.

Mayerowitz noted that while these fares are cheaper, they come with a lot of restrictions that people need to be aware of before buying.

“In most cases you’re boarding last, you don't have an advance seat assignment, and there are prohibitions on carry on bags,” he said.

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