The Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets to Save Money on Holiday Travel

Holiday travel can be expensive if you wait until the last minute to book. Here are expert tips for scoring the best deals.

If you plan on traveling during the holiday season, it's common knowledge to book flights early—airports are notorious for being packed during peak travel periods. Wherever you choose to go, booking early could make the difference between a happy holiday and a stressful (and more expensive) one.

To help, we've gathered pro tips for booking the best airline prices during the holidays.

Book holiday travel by the end of October for the best prices

The best time to book tickets is ASAP if you want to save money on holiday travel. But vacation times and holidays can be hard to plan, so aim to book flights by October 31 for travel during Thanksgiving and Christmas.

"After Halloween, prices will increase considerably as Thanksgiving gets closer," says Phil Dengler, travel expert and co-owner of travel resource site The Vacationer. Domestic flight prices can spike 40 percent—about $400 per round trip—from the end of October to the week before Thanksgiving, according to Adit Damodaran, an economist at Hopper. "In general, booking domestic flights three weeks in advance (or by Thanksgiving at the latest) should help travelers avoid the biggest price spikes," explains Damodaran.

The day of the week you book tickets can make a difference, too. Book flights in the middle of the week for lower prices. "The best time to book airfare is usually mid-week—[fewer] people are searching for flights so [prices]tend to dip from Tuesday to end of Wednesday," says money-saving expert Andrea Woroch. But flight prices during the holiday season will get more expensive the longer you wait, regardless of which day of the week you buy them.

"If you aren't sure exactly what your plans are, you may be able to book a portion of your flight to get the best deal on at least one leg of your trip," says Woroch. According to Damodaran, waiting until the last week for both Thanksgiving and Christmas can cost more than $500 round-trip.

Fly on the holiday to save more money

Another way to save money on plane tickets is to fly on the day of the holiday. Based on recent years, you can save about $50 if you travel on Thanksgiving day instead of the day before, according to travel search site KAYAK.

"Ultimately, it requires a bit of searching, so review airfare prices based on a 30-day schedule to find the best deal," says Woroch. Being flexible with your travel dates can help find the best airfare prices: "It's better to be open to traveling based on when you can score cheaper airline tickets, which will fall ahead or before a holiday," she adds. The day after a holiday can be pricier for return flights, too.

Track flight prices in advance to find the best deals

Doing your research, comparing flight deals, and being on the lookout for when prices drop are key to finding reasonable airfare for holiday travel. One way to do this is to monitor flight prices using a tracker such as Google Flights, Hopper, or Skyscanner, which will alert you with deals for your route.

"Set your desired route and travel dates and receive alerts when prices drop," says Janet Semenova, co-founder of travel company Boutique Travel Advisors. "Purchase flights immediately when they reach your desired threshold," she adds. Semenova recommends setting multiple alerts and being flexible with your travel dates. Even if you aren't entirely sure about your itinerary, start tracking flight prices for your route early—and book when you find the lowest price to save money on holiday travel.

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