It's no surprise that the airlines are even greedier during the holiday travel season, when those looking to make it home for Thanksgiving and Christmas can expect to shell out a shocking amount of money for flights. But the good news is time is still on your side if you haven’t booked your airfare yet—you’ll just want to do it in the next few weeks, according to recent data compiled by travel sites Priceline.com and Orbitz.
“Travelers looking for reasonable holiday airfare should book as soon as possible, preferably before Halloween, and be sure to check out more than one set of desired travel dates,” Priceline.com Travel Analyst Brian Ek said in a statement.
Want specific days? Orbitz pinpoints October 6 as the day to buy Thanksgiving airfare, October 9 to book Christmas tickets, and October 10 to plan New Year's Eve travel.
Before you book, you’ll want to be aware of some key dates when airline travel might be cheaper. Generally, it’s best to avoid the weekends before the holidays, according to Priceline. For Thanksgiving, you’ll typically find the best fares if you leave on November 19, 23, or 26 (Thanksgiving Day). For your flight home, it’s often best to leave November 27, or December 1 or 2. For Christmas, cheaper departure dates are currently December 21-25, while the best return dates are December 28-31.
Plus, don't forget to think about the time of day when booking. The cheapest times to fly are early in the morning from 5 to 7 a.m. or in the evening after 8 p.m. The most expensive hours to fly are 8 to 10 a.m. and 5 to 7 p.m.
And for those who wait until the very last minute for everything, your deadline for buying tickets is 21 days before your flight date. "Once you hit that 21-day window, fares usually start to escalate," Flavie Lemarchand-Wood, Priceline.com's Vice President of Communications, tells RealSimple.com. "And the most expensive days to reserve a fare are usually within seven days of departure, which is why I tell people to never wait on airfare if they see a price that they like, because odds are it will cost more if they procrastinate."
But no matter what, you can still expect to spend quite a bit of cash. According to Priceline.com, the average domestic airfare for Thanksgiving is $408, while Christmas tickets average $485.