With temperatures still soaring in much of the nation it’s easy to put off making those upcoming holiday travel plans. But if you’re hoping to score good deals around Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s – the time to act is now.
Most seasoned travelers know that the earlier you plan your trip in advance, the better pricing and availability you will have. This goes for flights and hotel accommodations as well as car rentals. With so many people traveling during the time period between Thanksgiving and the end of the year, fares on airlines historically creep up quickly and consistently. Travel experts estimate that airline prices increase $3 per day starting in September and rise to $5 per day beginning in October. The average airfare for 2015 has been nearly $400 more than last year but of course prices vary depending on your route and airline.
If the statistics for 2014 are any indication, holiday travelers can expect to encounter massive crowds and competition for airline seats, hotel rooms, and rental cars. Last Thanksgiving, AAA estimates that more than 46 million Americans traveled more than 50 miles over the long weekend. Christmas and New Year’s of last year saw a record 99 million people take to the roads and airways.
On a positive note, even though it is now the middle of September, you can still find decent fares. Typically, airline tickets which are book by the end of September for the Christmas holiday season will cost about 9% less than last-minute purchases. After the first of November, you can expect to pay a premium price for just about anything travel-related.
Remember that even once you’ve booked, it’s smart to keep an eye on airfares and hotel rates. For flights, federal rules allow you to change or cancel your plans without incurring a penalty within 24 hours of booking. After that time, most airlines, hotels and travel agencies will give you a refund (usually in the form of travel credits) if the price drops below what you actually paid for the same itinerary.
Almost as important as booking early is deciding when to fly. Generally, the least popular times to fly (translation: potentially cheaper flights) are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturday afternoons. However, with holiday travel, this doesn’t always hold true. Obviously with the Thanksgiving holiday, the most expensive day to fly is the Wednesday right before. With Christmas and New Year’s falling on Fridays this year, weekend travel around those dates will probably be the most costly. Flying out on a Tuesday and returning on the Friday of the holiday may be the best itinerary, cost-wise, although undoubtedly not a very popular one.