The only thing certain about holidays is that you need to buy gifts and you’ll probably need to travel. The best way to prepare for the expenses is to save every month, a little towards that big expense. With the cheaper gas price, you’re expected to travel cheaper than previous years, but you can further cut cost.
Even though you may have just put away the swimsuits and pool toys, now is actually the right time to start thinking about your holiday travel plans. It used to be that you could wait until a few weeks before Thanksgiving or Christmas to buy your airline tickets, but those days are long gone.
If you know that you’re going to visit Grandma Lil or Uncle Morton for the holidays this year, these pointers will help you avoid paying through the nose:
When to buy airline tickets to save
1. Don’t wait!
In the past, it was possible to take advantage of last-minute deals right before the holidays, but it’s a mistake to count on those deals this year. Airfare prices have gone up several times already this year, and the longer you wait to buy your tickets, the more expensive they will be. Also, if you find airfare in your price point, go ahead and pull the trigger. You won’t gain anything by waiting.
If your plans aren’t set in stone, you could take the chance that there will be a last-minute discount on your fare. But don’t count on this if you know it would break your mother’s heart that you’re not home for the holidays.
2. Be flexible
The majority of Thanksgiving travelers will fly on the same days each year: the Wednesday before turkey day and the Sunday after. These are the days that maximize the time with the in-laws within the constraints of the four-day weekend.
However, they are also the most expensive days to fly (not to mention the most crowded and frustrating days in an airport). If you have any flexibility in your plans, plan to fly in on the Monday before the holiday or on Thanksgiving day itself, and fly back out again on Friday, Saturday or Tuesday after the holiday.
As for Christmas, the most expensive days to vary each year, but you can save a lot if you’re willing to fly on Christmas day, or plan your trip so you’re arriving on December 17 and/or leaving after January 2.
3. Make your travel time a little longer
We all know that flying out of hub or large airport can make a big difference in the ticket price. Willingness to drive several hours to the nearest hub airport can save you green—which will help you afford all those family presents. Another strategy is to take connecting flights rather than non-stop service. It does add to your travel time, but it can save you a great deal of money.
4. Use frequent flier miles
Even less-than-seasoned travelers can take advantage of free airline miles. Though it might be difficult to accumulate enough miles this year to fly home for free, you can sign up for a frequent flyer program now and start using your flights home, travel for work and credit card perks toward a free flight in the future.
5. Shop around
It’s important to remember that not all the major domestic airlines show their fares on comparison sites. Make sure you’re not overlooking an airline that flies from your city just because it’s not listed on an aggregate site. Use comparison websites for the cheapest fare.
6. Know the rules on checked luggage
Even once you’ve purchased your tickets, you can still get some rude surprises. Check the rules and FAQs on your airline’s website to know whether your checked bags fly free. Based on that, you’ll know if you need to mail your gifts ahead and just pack a carry-on.
Don’t let the holiday season sneak up on you! Start looking for airfare now and save.
I would like to add that tickets for an odd time of the day (say 8 PM) is generally cheaper than morning flights (say 8 AM). If you can make your travel schedule a little more flexible you can catch the cheapest flight of the day.
I usually book tickets through bidding at Priceline. The main advantage is you might get an unusually lower rate. There is a hack I use on Priceline, start a couple of months earlier, and start bidding with a very low price, chances are you will get rejected. Priceline won’t allow you more than one bid per day for same destination and origin, you can gradually increase bid price by one dollar each day (if you can change origin or destination, it gives you freedom to bid twice a day). Continue this process for a few days. I always get my bid accepted within a few days.
The main drawback of Priceline is you can specify only the dates not the time of the day. You may lose an entire day if you get a late night flight or you need to take a day off if booked on a morning flight instead of a night flight.
I would reiterate that, book your flights well in advance, till it’s still cheaper.