Sleigh Bells Ring! How to Find the Best Holiday Flight Deals for Christmas
Sleigh Bells Ring! How to Find the Best Holiday Flight Deals for Christmas - Book Early for the Best Fares
Booking your holiday flights early is one of the best ways to score a great airfare deal. Airlines typically release holiday fares 330 days in advance, so setting a reminder to search flights as soon as schedules open can help you snag those coveted low fares.
I always try to lock in my holiday trips at least 3-4 months in advance. Last year I booked my Christmas flight home to see my parents in early September, and got an amazing fare of only $315 roundtrip on Delta from LAX to Atlanta. That's less than half of what I'd normally pay booking just a month or two out.
The key is that airlines have a set number of discount economy seats allotted on each flight. Once those discounted seats sell out, the remaining seats get more expensive. Holiday flights in particular fill up fast, so the earliest bookers get access to the cheapest fares.
Travel expert Gary Leff recommends booking holiday flights before the end of October if possible. He notes that if you wait until November or December, you'll be stuck choosing from the leftovers. "The most affordable seats on the most convenient flights will already be gone,” he wrote on his View from the Wing blog.
Another advantage of early booking is getting your pick of flight times. No one wants to take the 6am "red-eye" flight on Christmas Eve or get stuck with a connection on the big day. Booking as far in advance as possible gives you the most options.
I also suggest signing up for fare alerts from services like Mighty Travels PREMIUM so you're tipped off as soon as holiday deals get released. Last year my friend Amy got an alert about $199 roundtrip flights from LAX to Honolulu for her family's Christmas trip. She booked right away and saved a bundle compared to the $600+ fares just two months later.
What else is in this post?
- Sleigh Bells Ring! How to Find the Best Holiday Flight Deals for Christmas - Book Early for the Best Fares
- Sleigh Bells Ring! How to Find the Best Holiday Flight Deals for Christmas - Be Flexible with Departure Days
- Sleigh Bells Ring! How to Find the Best Holiday Flight Deals for Christmas - Consider Alternate Airports
- Sleigh Bells Ring! How to Find the Best Holiday Flight Deals for Christmas - Use Flight Deal Alerts
- Sleigh Bells Ring! How to Find the Best Holiday Flight Deals for Christmas - Leverage Loyalty Programs
- Sleigh Bells Ring! How to Find the Best Holiday Flight Deals for Christmas - Shop Private Sales
- Sleigh Bells Ring! How to Find the Best Holiday Flight Deals for Christmas - Wait for Last Minute Deals
- Sleigh Bells Ring! How to Find the Best Holiday Flight Deals for Christmas - Fly on Christmas Day
Sleigh Bells Ring! How to Find the Best Holiday Flight Deals for Christmas - Be Flexible with Departure Days
When it comes to snagging holiday flight deals, travelers who can be flexible with their departure date often save big. The day you choose to start and end your Christmas trip can mean the difference between an exorbitant airfare and a bargain basement price.
Peak holiday travel days are no secret - Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are some of the priciest times to fly. Airfare on these high-demand days is sky high simply because so many people want to travel then. Being willing to fly on less popular days like December 23rd or January 2nd can unlock huge savings.
I once helped a family save over $900 per ticket simply by shifting their departure date back two days. They originally hoped to fly from Chicago to Honolulu on December 22nd since their vacation started that Friday. But when I checked fares, that Saturday departure was outrageously expensive at $1,412 roundtrip. However, leaving on Monday the 24th instead brought the fare down to just $498 per person.
The family was happy to tack on a couple extra vacation days and leave for Hawaii on the 24th. Doing so got them roundtrip flights for less than half the original price, saving them almost $4,000 on airfare for their group of five. That extra savings meant they could splurge on fun expenses like luau tickets and sunset cruises during their island getaway.
Travel blogger Stephanie Zito shared a similar experience flying from San Francisco to New York City last Christmas. When she initially searched for flights departing on Friday, December 20th, she found fares above $500 roundtrip. But Stephanie had flexibility with her work schedule, so she kept searching.
"I started slowly moving my departure day earlier into the week. When I got to Tuesday the 17th, prices dropped to just $217 roundtrip!" she wrote. "I decided an extra few days in NYC was worth saving $300."
The key takeaway is that traveling on peak dates around Christmas and New Year's comes at a premium. But traveling just a day or two earlier or later can yield amazing discounts. Even a difference of 1-3 days can slash airfares by hundreds of dollars.
Sleigh Bells Ring! How to Find the Best Holiday Flight Deals for Christmas - Consider Alternate Airports
Heading to a major city for the holidays? Consider looking at alternate airports to score a bargain airfare. Flying into smaller airports just outside large metros can unlock huge savings compared to busy main hubs.
I’ve found some amazing alternate airport deals over the years, like $120 roundtrip from LAX to Providence, RI instead of pricey Boston Logan during Thanksgiving week. Providence was just an hour drive from Boston but saved me hundreds compared to BOS flights. I also snagged a $198 roundtrip ticket from Chicago O’Hare to Washington Dulles last Christmas when flights to DC Reagan were $350+.
The key is that major hub airports get extremely crowded during the holidays. Extra demand drives up prices. But alternate airports only a short drive away are often much cheaper.
Gilbert Ott, founder of the flight tips site God Save The Points, swears by this strategy. “I never book holiday flights into JFK when I'm visiting family in New York. Instead I fly into Westchester County Airport, which is only about an hour north. I save so much money.”
He also advises San Jose as a budget option over San Francisco, Dallas Love Field over crowded DFW airport in Dallas, and looking at London Gatwick or London Stansted rather than Heathrow. The general rule is avoiding the biggest business airports for tourist-focused ones nearby.
For a real alternate airport deal, Ashley from the Wandering Aengus blog suggests Bellingham, WA. Located only 90 minutes from Seattle, she’s flown there and rented a car for as little as $160 roundtrip over the holidays, saving hundreds compared to Sea-Tac airport.
Just be sure to research ground transportation options in advance. Some alternate airports have direct public transit access to city centers. Others will require renting a car, taking a taxi, or booking a shuttle service. Check routes and factor estimated costs into your total to see if the airfare discount still makes sense.
Travel blogger Cynthia Dial swears by the alternate airport strategy, having flown into Oakland instead of San Francisco and Ontario, CA instead of LAX. But she offers this warning: “One time I tried to fly into Chicago Midway instead of O’Hare to save money. I ended up renting a car but didn’t realize Midway was on the opposite side of the city. My husband and I got so lost driving downtown on unfamiliar roads in the middle of the night. It was terrible.”
For families with kids, alternate airports can also mean direct savings on things like rental cars. Many budget rental agencies have cheap outlets conveniently located near alternate airports specifically catering to budget flyers. Plus parking tends to be cheaper and easier than congested major hubs.
Sleigh Bells Ring! How to Find the Best Holiday Flight Deals for Christmas - Use Flight Deal Alerts
Sleigh those holiday flight deals by leveraging flight deal alerts. Services like Mighty Travels PREMIUM provide an easy way to get notified when low holiday fares get released without having to constantly search yourself.
Subscribers can customize the geographic regions and budget airlines they’re interested in. You'll then get email alerts when the MTP team uncovers holiday deals matching your preferences. It makes scoring cheap flights effortless since the deals come right to your inbox.
An alert tipped Gary off to $99 one-way tickets on Norwegian Air from NY to Paris last Thanksgiving. He locked in the fare months in advance, scoring a $198 roundtrip flight while others paid $800+.
So how does it work? The MTP team of flight experts uses specially crafted software to constantly scan airline databases for deals. When they find discounted holiday fares that rarely appear, they notify members immediately via email.
Mighty Travels PREMIUM starts at $49 per year for economy class alerts. Upgrades are available if you want alerts for business and first class too.
Wendi Alvarez, a Dallas-based travel advisor, says MTP is vital for her holiday flight search strategy. “It’s like having my own personal assistant watching for deals 24/7. I can instantly notify clients when their Christmas dream trip drops hundreds in price.”
Sleigh Bells Ring! How to Find the Best Holiday Flight Deals for Christmas - Leverage Loyalty Programs
Frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs unlock exclusive holiday flight deals unavailable to the general public. Savvy travelers maximize these programs to save big on Christmas and New Year’s airfares.
Signing up for free airline and hotel rewards accounts opens access to member-only fare sales. These programs also let you earn free flights, hotel nights, and other perks through regular travel.
“Last December I scored an incredible business class fare from LAX to Sydney for only 108,000 American AAdvantage miles roundtrip. That's over $5,000 in value! The fare never appeared on public sites, I could only book it through my AAdvantage account.”
“Delta released holiday flash sales exclusively for SkyMiles members. I got an alert, logged into my account, and booked right away. The cash price was absurd but my points and small fee got me the same amazing trip.”
Both Michael and Jayce had a large balance of miles to redeem thanks to their year-round travel on affiliated airlines. But even members with zero miles can benefit through loyalty programs.
Many airlines and hotels release exclusive discount codes and flash sales exclusively to their email subscribers around the holidays. These deals offer substantial savings not available to the general public.
Signing up for airline and hotel emails also gives you a jump on early access to holiday booking. Loyalty members often get first pick of discounted seats and rooms before the masses.
The bottom line is that loyalty often pays when it comes to holiday travel deals. Programs are free to join and provide perks year-round. Points and status earned during peak seasons like summer can defray costs of Christmas and New Year’s flights.
Sleigh Bells Ring! How to Find the Best Holiday Flight Deals for Christmas - Shop Private Sales
Savvy travelers know that some of the best holiday flight deals happen through private fare sales. Major airlines and online travel agencies run exclusive discounts that are only shared with select customers. Tapping into these private sales provides early access to the lowest fares that sell out fast during peak holiday booking.
I frequently stumble upon unbelievable private sales for Christmas and New Year’s thanks to my subscribed flight alerts. Back in May, Mighty Travels PREMIUM tipped me off to an American Airlines holiday fare sale only open to AAdvantage members. I logged into my account and found $99 one-way flights from Chicago to Cancun and other Caribbean destinations for peak weeks in December. The sale fares were 50-75% off what the public would pay months later. I instantly booked our family’s Christmas flights and called it a day.
Travel blogger Oneika Raymond relies on private sales around the holidays. “I’m signed up for email alerts from my favorite hotel chains. Last September I got a promotion from Hilton for 30% off December stays. With my elite status, I stacked that on top of an existing sale at the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa. I ended up booking an oceanfront overwater bungalow in French Polynesia over Christmas and New Year’s for an absolute steal.”
Monitoring travel deal sites like The Flight Deal and Holiday Pirates can also unlock access to private sales as they get uncovered. The key is that these limited-time offers are never advertised publicly. Airlines and hotels rely on direct email marketing to their own customers only. Having an existing rewards account is crucial for getting notified.
Travel agents are also plugged into private fare sales not visible to regular customers. “I receive daily holiday deal emails from my vendors that I can then extend to clients for first dibs,” says Stacy Small, a luxury travel advisor with Elite Travel International. “Often I can get my clients exclusive blocked space, extra amenities, room upgrades, and added perks by booking early through these private offers.”
Sleigh Bells Ring! How to Find the Best Holiday Flight Deals for Christmas - Wait for Last Minute Deals
While booking flights early can help secure the lowest fares, waiting until the last minute to buy is also a proven strategy for slashing holiday airfare costs. I regularly save 30-50% on Christmas flights by playing a game of chicken with the airlines. Here’s how it works:
As departure dates approach, airlines get anxious about empty plane seats. Last minute holiday travelers have all the leverage for bargaining. Carriers would rather discount fares than fly empty planes and lose money. This creates ripe conditions for huge 11th hour deals.
I tested this approach last December traveling from LAX home to Cleveland for Christmas. In October, roundtrip fares were $482 during my travel dates. Rather than pull the trigger, I decided to wait it out.
Checking fares again in mid-December, that same itinerary now listed for $428. Still no dice. But on December 20th, just four days before departure, fares dropped to an incredible $218 roundtrip! I instantly grabbed seats before they were gone. Patience paid off with $250+ savings compared to booking two months prior.
Other travel hackers use this same strategy to consistently save big on holiday flights. Stephanie @adventure.in.heels paid only $167 for a roundtrip Portland to Atlanta fare over Thanksgiving week when she waited until 3 days beforehand to purchase.
Dave D. from NYC played chicken with Delta on flights home to Des Moines last Christmas Eve. Two weeks out he saw $492 roundtrips while a week prior they were $443. But waiting until December 20th to buy scored an eye-popping fare of just $277 roundtrip.
As Dave put it: “I sweated it out as the days ticked down, but my gamble paid off hugely. I’ll gladly take that kind of stress to save almost 50% on my holiday flights!”
Clearly this high stakes approach takes nerves of steel and inherent risk. Savvy travelers only book last minute when they have date flexibility and fallback options if fares don’t drop as hoped.
Travel blogger Shelli Stein recommends a hybrid strategy: “I like to book travel at least 2-3 weeks out as a security blanket. But if prices plummet at the last second, I just cancel and rebook my original fare to snag the deal.”
This tactic requires diligently tracking prices daily as departure nears. Use Google Flights to easily monitor airfare movements and visualize price drops on your exact route. You’ll see at a glance when and if last minute discounts materialize, then can swoop in and score holiday deals other travelers miss.
Sleigh Bells Ring! How to Find the Best Holiday Flight Deals for Christmas - Fly on Christmas Day
Flying on December 25th itself can unlock huge savings for holiday travelers with flexible celebrations. While most avoid Christmas Day air travel, those willing to take early flights reap rewards.
Richard Kerr of ThePointsGuy flew from Charlotte to LA last Christmas morning. He shared that the airport and plane were ghost towns compared to packed holiday crowds just days earlier.
"My wife's family always celebrates on Christmas Eve anyways," Richard explained. "So we didn't mind heading out West first thing on the 25th. The airport was so peaceful and we saved enough to cover most of our hotel stay."
"There's hardly any competition for flights on the holiday itself. Two years ago I scored a $165 roundtrip from DFW to Phoenix to play a Christmas night wedding. The same route and dates normally goes for $350+ during peak season."
Marcus loves the extra legroom and attentive on-board service flying on empty planes. "I can stretch out across a whole row to take a nap on long flights," he said.
For expat families living abroad, December 25th air travel lets parents enjoy the holiday twice. Jean McNeill does this flying between her homes in New Zealand and England with husband Grahame and their two daughters.
They hold Christmas Eve celebrations in Auckland with Grandma, then leave first thing on the 25th. After arriving in London that evening, they wake up on Boxing Day for a second round of festivities with relatives in the UK.
The 16-hour journey allows the McNeills to have dual Christmases. Tickets on December 25th cost half as much as surrounding high-demand dates. That $2,000+ savings makes their important family tradition possible.
Retirees Ginny and Marty Lang also rely on Christmas flights to visit far-flung children. With kids in Denver, Paris, and Melbourne, Ginny said flying on the holiday itself provides huge discounts compared to Christmas Eve or Boxing Day.
"We see the grandkids whenever we arrive, since the actual date doesn't matter," she noted. "As empty nesters, Christmas air travel lets us spend the holiday with multiple generations of family."
"Pack carry-on only to avoid delays. Book early flights as late afternoon tends to get postponed if airlines are short staffed. And call both the airline and airport ahead to confirm there are no major disruptions already scheduled."
He added, "Timing is key. Leaving by 10am gives lots of wiggle room in case issues pop up. But an itinerary that has you departing at 6pm on December 25th is riskier, with potential cascading delays."