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.
Paul @ The Frugal Toad says
We are in town for the holidays however we will be traveling to New Hampshire for a family reunion around the 4th of July. I usually use a few online travel sites to compare prices and then adjust departure dates to find the best price.
I used to go to sidestep but now since its taken over by Kayak, Kayak is my comparison site to go to. Also since FLL is Spirit hub, I do look to get $9 fares on Spirit first.
Jesse @ BP says
The luggage costs have changed so much since I actually flew. I had heard they were bad but was shocked and hadn’t planned for the cost. Make sure you are aware of that before your flight.
Oh yeah $50 charge at minimum for an over-sized or overweight baggage, its too much. Travel with less items helps. If you travel to a particular place every year, keep two sets of clothes and accessories to reduce amount of baggage.
I book through PriceLine. But not airlines I generally go their way on car and hotels. Your travel tips are good. Now is infact the right time to book tickets.
Thanks for your comments Jimmy. Yeah I was skeptic about booking flights through PL but, later figured out I only need to convince my boss to grant extra day of leave, easy!
I shop around a lot before buying flights. To me a good itinerary is worth the extra money. Multiple stopovers and red eyes are just so exhausting. -Sydney
It depends on which financial state you are in..there are people who would like to take red eyes to save money. But I too try to avoid odd times.
[email protected] says
Good reminder! I have used Priceline quite a lot for hotel rooms, but have not used them for flights. I like your strategy of bidding once a day for several days in a row, raising your bid just $1 each time. I wouldn’t have thought of that. For hotel rooms I usually raise my bid by $5 and/or add new areas of the city I’ll accept or change the number of stars. We’ve gotten some very nice rooms for about $50-60 that way.
Southwest Airlines still offers one free checked bag & they are not on the aggregators’ sites. If you have a Delta credit card (forget the type, MasterCard?) you also get one free checked bag per passenger. That comes in handy for international flights.
Thanks for all the tips & I’ll be working up my courage to try Priceline for flights!
Delta has a tie up with AMEX. Are you sure those cards offer free luggage allowance? I would look at. Remember to keep start and return journey dates free ..you’ll never know which flight you will be booked in to.
I always book hotels through priceline bidding, I go for three/four star hotels on outskirts of big cities I get surprised by the low rates.
Today, I went to the beachfront wijth my children. I found a sea shell
and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put the shell
to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.
Shhe never wants to go back! LoL I know this is totally off topic but I
had to tell someone!