Although summer may not be over yet, it’s time to start thinking about booking vacation flights if you’re looking for a bargain.
Thanksgiving and Christmas flights have already started to pick up over the past couple of months, but the good news is there are still potential deals to be found, said Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights. Travel + Leisure.
In fact, the worst thing anyone can do is wait until the last minute hoping prices will drop (because spoiler: they probably won’t).
“It’s hard and kind of rare to see cheap vacation flights — they do happen, but they happen much earlier…when everyone else is thinking about their summer flights,” Keyes said. “The best fares were probably a month or two ago and now most fares are just decent, but it’s extremely likely that they’ll get a lot more expensive in the coming months.”
Consider the following tips for booking holiday flights and hopefully save some money in the process.
The time to book is now
Generally, the best time to find a Thanksgiving flight is 36 to 74 days before departure (think: right after Labor Day), while the average price for Christmas flights tends to fall 22 days before since departure, according to Google data shared with T+L . However, the search engine warns it may be “cutting it” as Christmas prices can drop anywhere between 20 and 88 days before departure.
“It’s a good idea to book in advance for any major vacation, especially if you already know your destination and travel dates,” James Byers, group product manager at Google Flights, told T+L. “This way you can make sure you don’t miss the specific flights that best suit your travel plans.”
The good news for travelers is that many airlines in the United States have eliminated cancellation and change fees, allowing travelers to book now and rebook later if they find a cheaper deal.
“It gives you a lot more opportunity to take advantage if you don’t have the right timing,” Keyes said. “It gives you the opportunity to have a ‘heads you win, tails you lose’ situation with the airlines which was quite rare before.”
Consider Going International
Another way to save money on a dream vacation abroad is to go during Thanksgiving week, when international flight prices tend to drop, Keyes said. A flight from New York to Lisbon during this week, for example, cost less than a flight from New York to Minneapolis.
“Thanksgiving is my best week for international travel,” he said. “People don’t associate Thanksgiving with cheap flights because everyone is traveling domestically. All these people traveling domestically are not traveling abroad and late November is a low season.”
Travelers probably won’t find the same level of discounts at Christmas, but winter flights overall are starting to drop in price.
“Summer travel tends to be considerably more expensive than autumn travel and this has been exacerbated this year due to limited demand. I think that’s largely starting to disappear,” Keyes said. “I think we will enter something closer to a re-normalization. This will still mean expensive flights during the holidays, but extremely cheap flights in the fall and winter, except for those weeks.”
Book strategically to minimize disruption
After a summer of chaos that saw more than 100,000 US flights canceled and nearly a million flights delayed, it’s only fair that we try our best to stay ahead of the fray. Overall, airline delays are generally due to a combination of staff shortages and air traffic control issues, and several airlines have cut fall routes in an effort to minimize disruptions, including American Airlines and United Airlines.
Opting for early morning flights and direct flights are two “tried and true strategies” travelers can use for a smoother travel experience, Keyes said.
However, only choosing non-stop flights, for example, comes with a trade-off: on average, non-stop fares were 20% more expensive than those with stops, according to Google.
Alison Fox is a writer for Travel + Leisure. When she is not in New York, she enjoys spending time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.