The year's end is fast approaching: are you ready to make your holiday travel plans?
Every year the advice is the same. Don't wait to book! If you leave it to the last minute you'll be surprised by sky-high fares and limited availability. For example, have said that fares for Christmas travel are averaging about 40% higher than 2021 levels for domestic round-trip itineraries. Wow!
However, given the up and down nature of travel as the post-pandemic landscape continues to evolve, the unpredictability means you might be surprised with a lower-than-expected fare! Don't lose hope; with some smart research and planning you'll be certain that you're getting the best rate out there.
At the end of the day, what is our evergreen advice? Don't wait to book holiday travel. You'll thank us later.
Holiday Travel Tips
Thanksgiving: What to Expect
It's looking like Thanksgiving airfares will be better than those at Christmas, so if you book now you should be in a good spot. If you still aren't sure what your plans will look like, don't wait beyond the first week of November. The golden rule travel-savvy gurus like to cite is 21 days out from your planned departure date. That means November 2 or November 3, depending on when you'd need to be in the air.
The price of waiting too long? Upwards of $450 per ticket! Nobody wants to throw that kind of money away if it's not entirely unavoidable. Lucky for you, it shouldn't have to be.
Christmas & New Year’s: What to Expect
While you used to be able to wait a little longer to book these flights – like maybe until after Thanksgiving – experts urge every traveler to book ASAP.
If you're going to apply the same golden rule to these holidays, December 3 is the last date you should book for Christmas Eve. Sometimes travelers think they can hedge their bets or somehow get lucky and be the exception to the rule. We're sorry to say that you will most certainly not be able to do that; book as soon as you can to minimize headaches and spending more than you'd like to.
Book Now, Change Later?
Given the way plans change (especially with COVID still hanging around), lots of travelers want to know if they can book their flights but make changes down the line if need be.
Four of the largest carriers in the United States – American, Delta, Southwest and United – let you change your ticket without paying a fee. In most cases, if you find a cheaper flight down the road, you can rebook and get airline credits for the price difference between the two, which you could use on a future trip. Alternatively you can opt for a full refund when canceling certain higher-level tickets or when using miles in certain programs.
American, Delta, and United exclude basic economy tickets from this flexibility. If you think you might want to make a change later on, you’re better off booking a regular economy ticket.
Keep in mind that if you're flying internationally you'll want to check your carrier’s individual policy.
The greater flexibility you have with your plans means the better luck you'll encounter when it comes to airfare for the holidays. Try flying into a smaller airport, leaving a day later or earlier, and looking into a wider range of flight times. Opening up or expanding your search goes a long way to increasing the odds you find better flight prices.
Sometimes having to shell out for more hotel nights evens out the total amount you'd spend in the end regardless. However, if you can stay with family or friends for a few more days, it could be a way to save some cash and enjoy a longer getaway.
Consider flying on the holiday
Fly on Christmas Eve? Thanksgiving morning? While this isn't ideal for many travelers, the lower airfares might be enough to make you change your mind. Crowds might even be smaller (comparatively), making the travel experience itself slightly less stressful.
Consider alternative destinations
Most families have traditions that are pretty set in stone, making it hard to move around dates or even locations of special gatherings. However, have you thought about switching it up a little bit? Maybe you can meet in a different city or rotate to another person's home. By being creative and innovative, you can select airfares based on the best prices. If you aren't trapped into a fixed time frame and destination, your options become much more attractive.
Place a hold on a flight if you can
Putting a hold on flights is an excellent way to play with your options. Policies are changing and growing a little less flexible, but it's still something you'll want to look into.
If you aren't ready to book just yet, some airlines will let you put a hold or fare lock on airfare if you find a price and itinerary that will work for your travel needs. For example, on United you can pay a small fee to lock in airfare after which you can either purchase the trip or have it canceled.
Keep in mind, if the airline doesn’t allow you to hold a flight, federal regulations require them to allow you 24 hours to cancel and get a full refund, so it’s not a problem if you book your flight and then quickly change your mind.
If you find a better price later, most airlines will allow you to cancel and switch to a new trip without paying a penalty provided it wasn't a basic economy fare. This applies primarily to domestic trips.
Holiday Travel: The Bottom Line
Book your flights as soon as you possibly can for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and/or New Year's if you need to travel. Aim for flexible change or cancellation policies, consider switching up your dates or destinations, and keep an open mind!