Flights during the holidays for Thanksgiving in the United States, for Christmas and for New Years, are expensive.
It’s simple supply and demand.
Demand goes up at these times and the prices do as well.
As solo travelers, supply and demand can often be our best friend. Without other people’s timetables to be concerned with, we’re typically pretty flexible in when we go. We can work around spring break, take holidays before summer’s high season and go to warmer climes in winter weeks that are not the most popular.
But… when we’re like everyone else, wanting to fly home or somewhere else for Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Years, we’re stuck with the law of supply and demand just like everyone else.
So how does one save on holiday flights? It’s all about timing and the time to plan is now.
The Bottom Line: How to Save on Holiday Flights
For those of you who don’t want to read the full analysis on how to save on flights for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years that’s below, here’s the cheat sheet on buying flights for the holiday season:
- Start looking now. In some years, the best deal has been available in late July. Last year it was September. You never know so it’s time to start looking.
- Be as flexible as you can with your dates. American Thanksgiving is November 23rd this year. Flying on the 22nd is very expensive. According to a FlightNetwork search for New York City to Austin return, flying the 21st, returning the 27th would be US$449. Flying the 22nd to the 26th would be US$589. Being flexible by one day on either side of the holiday saved US$140 in my test.
- Check more than one booking engine. I always check FlightNetwork and at least one other booking engine. For the NYC to Austin return example above, from the 22nd to the 26th, FlightNetwork was US$589, Hopper was US$776 and Skyscanner was $581.
- Look for price-drop protection. There are a number of booking engines that will track a flight for you and tell you when the price drops but as far as I know, only FlightNetwork offers price-drop protection. Essentially, under FlightNetwork’s price-drop protection, you book when you want and if the price drops they will give you a credit for the amount that the fare dropped (not counting taxes, airport fees and the like). You have to monitor for price drops and you can only claim once. As you can see above, FlightNetwork’s prices are good as well. I’ve used them a lot in the last year and have saved a few hundred dollars for sure. Plus, I screwed up on a reservation in April (yes, I can do it too) and they worked the problem through with the airline to set everything straight. See all the ways you’re protected here.
Please note: I get $15 if you book a flight through one of the links above. I can get the same or more with any of the other booking engines but I have really found a huge benefit with FlightNetwork. You don’t pay any more but we get this small commission.
Data Helps Predict Best Time to Get Holiday Deals
So, we’ve covered above what is really the bottom line for how to book flights for the holidays. Here’s where we get into the details as to why.
There’s plenty on the net about the how to save on flights for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, but the source of the information is rarely clear. I like good data and Skyscanner produces that data every year. They go into their booking data from the previous year to see when the best deals were had and what the savings were. With that information, they attempt to predict the best buying time for the current year.
They recently published their recommendations for 2017. For American Thanksgiving, they’re predicting the best date to book is the week of September 4th.
According to Skyscanner flight trends, the best time to book a thanksgiving flight is eleven weeks out during the week of September 4th for a potential savings of up to 4% and a ticket of approximately $300.”
But it must be noted that this is based on last year’s data.
So, is there anything we can do to predict the best time to buy a flight for the holidays based on what’s happening now?
Start Flight Shopping Now for the Holidays
In 2015 Skyscanner’s analysis predicted week 33, specifically August 10th, as the ideal time to purchase all holiday air travel tickets – tickets for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Eve. In 2016 it was the week of September 25th. This year they’re predicting the week of September 4th.
The best time to book changes, so start shopping early.
- Check at least two booking engines. My go-to are FlightNetwork and Skyscanner.
- Read FlightNetwork’s Price Drop Protection policy. The terms of their price protection policy require that you check for better prices and then ask for the discount which you receive as a credit for future purchases. Read the terms here. If they work for you, I’d book with FlightNetwork.
Be Flexible and Save on the Cost of Flights
Of course, the data above is general to the holiday season. You could save more by being flexible in terms of:
- The actual days you fly
- The airports you use
- The number of connections you’re willing to put up with
Use a private window in your browser (incognito in Chrome) and a search engine that allows you to look at prices for your destination for an entire month. If you’re willing to make a stopover, click the number of stops you’re willing to make. If you’re fortunate enough to have airport options, look at those as well. Read these posts:
- Stopover Flights Deliver More Travel for Less Money
- Get the Best Deals on Flights: Here’s How
- How to Make Money from Overbooked Flights: 10 Tips
- Save on Hotels? Yes You Can, with These Tips
- Luxury Travel on a Budget: 32 Tips You Need to Know
And if your holiday destination does not include family, check out: