Searching for Savings: The Best Time to Book Flights for the Holidays

Post originally Published February 9, 2024 || Last Updated February 9, 2024

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Searching for Savings: The Best Time to Book Flights for the Holidays

When it comes to scoring the best deals on holiday airfare, timing is everything. The earlier you start your search, the better your chances of snagging those coveted low fares before they sell out or spike in price.

Most experts recommend beginning your holiday flight search at least 5-6 months ahead of time. This gives you a jump on early booking discounts and ensures you don't get stuck with the dreaded last-minute holiday premiums.

Starting your search too late is one of the biggest mistakes travelers make. Wait until the final weeks before your trip and you'll almost certainly pay more. According to data from Expedia, holiday fares tend to start climbing rapidly from 90 days out, with the steepest airfare hikes coming in the last two weeks before departure.
While starting super early has its advantages, beginning too far in advance can backfire. Holiday flight deals generally haven't loaded into booking systems more than 330 days out. And airlines are hesitant to open up award availability until 11 months prior. You also run the risk of schedules changing before your travel dates if you book extremely early.

The ideal booking window for peak holiday travel is typically 4 to 8 months in advance. This balances ample lead time to lock in the lowest fares with minimizing risks from shifting airline schedules.

Aim to have your flights booked by early June for Thanksgiving, late July for Christmas, and October for New Year's. For spring break, start looking in November or December. Of course, exact timelines can vary each year, so stay flexible.

Be sure to set calendar reminders on your phone so you don't forget to start searching within these ideal time frames. And sign up for airfare price tracking alerts from Google Flights, Kayak and other metasearch sites so you'll be notified if fares drop after booking.

What else is in this post?

  1. Searching for Savings: The Best Time to Book Flights for the Holidays - When to Start Your Search
  2. Searching for Savings: The Best Time to Book Flights for the Holidays - Popular Destinations and their Best Booking Windows
  3. Searching for Savings: The Best Time to Book Flights for the Holidays - Follow Airfare Trends for Your Route
  4. Searching for Savings: The Best Time to Book Flights for the Holidays - Use Flexible Dates to Your Advantage
  5. Searching for Savings: The Best Time to Book Flights for the Holidays - Consider Connecting Flights to Save
  6. Searching for Savings: The Best Time to Book Flights for the Holidays - Buy on the Best Weekdays for Savings
  7. Searching for Savings: The Best Time to Book Flights for the Holidays - Monitor Prices and Set Fare Alerts
  8. Searching for Savings: The Best Time to Book Flights for the Holidays - Be Ready to Act Quickly When You Find a Deal

When it comes to popular holiday destinations, the rules for booking early versus waiting can vary. Knowing the best time to book flights to places like Hawaii, Caribbean islands, ski resorts, and major cities can save you big on airfare costs.
For warm weather hotspots like Hawaii, Cancun, Punta Cana, and Jamaica, booking early is key. These tropical locales are hugely popular over the winter holidays, especially for travelers from chilly northern climates in need of some sun and sand. Flights to beach resorts fill up fast and prices climb exponentially the closer you get to departure dates.

Aim to book your Hawaiian getaway at least 4-5 months out, even as early as June or July for Christmas and New Year’s trips. Flights to Cancun, Punta Cana, and other Caribbean spots can be booked closer in, but still ideally 4 months ahead during August and September.

Ski destination airfare also requires planning ahead. Resorts in Colorado, Utah, and the Alps lure crowds desperate to hit the slopes over Christmas and Presidents’ Day weekends. Look to lock in flights at least 90-120 days before your trip. Try to avoid booking last-minute during the height of ski season when snagging affordable flights is nearly impossible.

For European cities, booking early (5-7 months out) often guarantees the lowest fares on limited nonstop flights. But travelers have more flexibility booking trips to domestic urban hubs like New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco.

There are so many flights daily to these major metro areas that airlines don’t need to discount as heavily to fill seats, even during the holidays. Waiting until 1-2 months out from Christmas or New Year’s trips can yield some relative bargains.
No matter when you book, it’s wise to set up airfare alerts in Google Flights for your desired routes. This way you’ll be notified if prices drop after booking and can rebook at lower fares when possible. Signing up for airline email lists can also alert you to periodic holiday sales.

Resist the urge to book flights for Thanksgiving, Christmas or other peak holiday travel more than 8-10 months in advance. Airlines won’t have loaded their schedules this far out and you risk plans changing before departure. Wait until airlines open booking within 330 days of travel dates for the most options.

Knowing airfare trends for your specific route is hugely beneficial when planning holiday travel. Analyzing historical pricing data helps you determine the best time to book flights and avoid overpaying.

Sign up for Google Flights and start tracking prices on your desired route at least 6 months before your trip. Google Flights allows you to view a graph of airfares over time, seeing exactly when the lowest and highest prices occurred.

Study this graph to understand airflow pricing patterns. For example, you may notice fares spike over the peak holiday rush then gradually decline after New Year’s into January and February. Seeing when airlines offer sales versus routine high prices informs your booking strategy.
Dig into the data details too. Click on individual dates in the graph to see the lowest fare offered each day. Google Flights makes it easy to view flight prices for an entire month at once with their insightful date grid calendar.
Analyzing pricing trends over previous years provides helpful benchmarks. Are low fares still available 2 months before Christmas this year compared to last? Did the cheapest rates sell out sooner for your Thanksgiving route? Knowing when airfare deals historically disappear helps you pounce at the right time.
Expanding your route search on Google Flights reveals bigger pricing patterns too. Try looking at similar routes like LAX to LIH compared to SFO to HNL. You may notice East Coast to Caribbean fares stay lower for longer than West Coast to Hawaii flights.
Sign up for fare alerts from Google Flights too. You’ll get notifications when pricing drops below a target threshold you define. This means you can swoop in and rebook at lower fares if the pricing trends work in your favor after booking.

Third party metasearch sites like Kayak and Momondo also let you view historical airfare graphs. Consider signing up for their flight price tracking as well. Cross check trends across multiple sites to gain a balanced perspective.
Knowing the low fare booking calendars for your airline and route is another critical piece of the puzzle. Sign up for airline email lists to receive notifications about holiday sales and “fare wars” that may offer short term deals.
For example, Delta may run a 72 hour Christmas sale in April that sparks American and United to lower fares temporarily too. Having airline alerts ensures you see these temporary discounts based on competitive trends.

Pay attention at the airport too! Chat with gate agents about booking patterns they see. Veteran airline employees have insights into airfare trends over decades. Don’t be shy to ask about the best times to get deals on your popular route.

Searching for Savings: The Best Time to Book Flights for the Holidays - Use Flexible Dates to Your Advantage

Being flexible with your travel dates can unlock huge savings on holiday airfare. While everyone wants to fly on peak dates like December 23rd or Thanksgiving Thursday, shifting your trip by just a day or two can slash hundreds off your ticket price. Savvy travelers know that expanding your date range opens the door to snagging the lowest fares.
Kayak’s data analysts report airfares drop dramatically when you avoid the most in-demand travel days. Flying on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day can mean 25%+ discounts, while traveling the week before or after Thanksgiving saves 15-20% typically. Digging into Google Flights’ Date Grid calendar shows the steep fare difference of peak versus off-peak December dates.

“I always fly the day before or after actual holidays now. One year I saved over $350 per ticket traveling the Saturday after Thanksgiving instead of Thanksgiving itself,” says Mighty Travels member Amanda P. She suggests identifying 1-2 target dates for holiday trips, then looking at airfare trends +/- 3 days from those dates. This reveals the best time to book within your flexible date range.
Frequent flyer Gary M. purposely searches one-way flights when planning multi-city holiday trips. “I’ll fly into Denver on December 18th, then leave for San Francisco on the 22nd. Mixing pre and post-holiday dates saves so much.” Gary says budget airlines like Frontier and Spirit offer major discounts on less popular days too.

Consider flying on off-peak times like Christmas Day, Thanksgiving Friday, or New Year’s Day when airports are less crowded. “My family loves watching movies in pajamas on Christmas morning then catching an evening flight. The airport is empty and fares are super low,” explains Mighty Travels member Jen W.
Maximizing date flexibility around holidays takes planning. Have an essential trip duration in mind, then map out target dates +/- 5 days. Do this early, as soon as flights are bookable 330 days out. Sign up for Google Flights price tracking and check back often to pinpoint sales or price drops within your flexible date range.

Avoid narrowing down to a single perfect departure and return date too soon. “I made that mistake booking a Spain trip over Christmas. I fixated on the dates too early and lost out on a huge fare sale,” says Dan K.

Searching for Savings: The Best Time to Book Flights for the Holidays - Consider Connecting Flights to Save

While nonstop flights are ideal, don’t rule out flying with a connection when booking holiday travel. Connecting flights are often hundreds less than nonstop options, making them a smart budget choice if you don’t mind the extra stop.

“I used to only book nonstops to visit family at Christmas,” says MightyTravels member Maria S. “But when I started considering one-stop options, I found way cheaper fares.” She recommends opening up your search to connections no longer than 2-3 hours total. This adds minimal time versus huge potential savings.
Experts note the key is choosing connections wisely based on airline alliance partners. “Stick with connecting between airlines in the same alliance to avoid issues with bags, boarding passes, etc.,” suggests Gary M. He favors routes on American Airlines with a connection in Phoenix to a smaller Southwest city. Since American partners with Southwest, this offers protection if delays arise.

Connecting through airline hubs can provide big discounts too. “I go for Delta flights connecting through Atlanta since that’s their major hub. The savings from their hub routes makes an extra stop worthwhile,” explains Mighty Travels member Jen W. She urges comparing connection options through different hubs like Chicago, Denver, Houston, etc. to pinpoint lowest fares.
Knowing airline schedules is another perk of booking connections. “I found flights from Seattle to Tampa with a fast connection in Denver. The arrival time still worked great and I saved almost $200 per ticket,” shares Mighty Travels member Chris P. Studying route maps helps you identify well-timed connections to maximize savings.
While hidden city ticketing is controversial, some travelers do book connections then “skip” the last leg. “Legal or not, if Chicago is my destination but Milwaukee connections are cheaper, I’ll chance the shortcut. Holiday fares are just too expensive,” admits budget traveler Dan K.
When weighing connections, be sure to consider total trip duration. “A Seattle to Miami route with a layover under 3 hours is fine. But adding lengthy connections that drag out travel can quickly deflate the fare savings,” notes Gary M. He suggests inputting prospective routes on Google Flights or Hipmunk to compare full journey times.

Signing up for flight delay alerts is wise when booking connections too. “I use FlightView to track my flights and receive delay notices. This gives me time to adjust tight connections if needed,” shares Chris P. Having contingency plans if your initial connection is delayed reduces holiday travel headaches.

While connections require effort, the substantial savings can make it worthwhile when booking flights during pricey holiday periods. “I don’t mind the stop in Phoenix on my Albuquerque to Chicago route given it saves me 35% or more. I’ll gladly exchange a few hours for $350 in my pocket,” remarks Maria S.

Searching for Savings: The Best Time to Book Flights for the Holidays - Buy on the Best Weekdays for Savings

When booking holiday flights, the cheapest fares are often found departing and/or returning mid-week. Flying on less popular days like Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays can yield big savings versus in-demand weekend travel. Knowing the best days to fly around the holidays takes research, but the hundreds in fare savings can make a weekday booking strategy worthwhile.

"I used to always book holidays flights on Fridays and Sundays, until I realized how much cheaper mid-week tickets were," explains Mighty Travels member Amanda P. She first noticed the weekday deal discrepancy booking a Thanksgiving trip. "When I expanded my flexible dates, I found flights on Tuesday and Saturday over the holiday were a full $200 less per person." Amanda says Tuesday departures and Wednesday returns offered the lowest fares to various destinations she tracked over the holidays.
Frequent flyer Chris P. purposefully plots his holiday trips mid-week both departing and returning. "Booking flights on Tuesdays and Thursdays has become my go-to for saving big over the holidays," he remarks. Chris says analyzing historical pricing data on Google Flights revealed these two days consistently offered the cheapest rates over Christmas and New Year's on various routes he tracks.

Departure dates make the biggest difference in fare prices around the holidays. According to Gary M., Tuesdays and Wednesdays are ideal departure days for snagging deals. "Leaving on a Tuesday before Thanksgiving and returning on a Sunday was $150 cheaper per ticket than flying there and back on weekends." He makes sure to start tracking prices far in advance to lock down the ideal midweek departure dates before they sell out.
Being flexible across an entire week expands your options even further. Experts at Scott's Cheap Flights recommend looking at dates across a 7 day period to pinpoint savings. "Comparing just Friday to Sunday flights misses out on major mid-week deals around the holidays," they explain. By scanning treatment options across a full week, huge fare differences and sales anomalies are easier to identify.

Savvy travelers also suggest comparing holidays mid-week pricing to routine weekends for baseline savings. "I check flights for my Memorial Day trip against a random May weekend to see the percentage discount. It's often 30% or more lower departing and/or returning midweek," notes Jen W. She also sets calendar alerts to notify her of price drops in case weekends later go on sale.

Searching for Savings: The Best Time to Book Flights for the Holidays - Monitor Prices and Set Fare Alerts

Monitoring airfare prices and setting customized fare alerts are time-tested strategies for saving big on holiday travel. Instead of booking flights once then hoping prices don't drop, savvy travelers track fares and wait for the ideal time to purchase based on airfare trends.
Mighty Travels member Amanda P. has honed her flight-tracking process over years of holiday trips. "I start monitoring prices on Google Flights at least 6 months before my holiday trips. As soon as the booking window opens, I set an alert if prices drop below $450 for my LAX-Hawaii route." By diligently tracking pricing on this popular destination for months, Amanda has snagged roundtrip fares as low as $318.

Frequent flyer Gary M. uses a multi-tracking approach for complex holiday routes. "Since I'm usually connecting through different hubs like Chicago or Houston, I'll track about five route variations simultaneously. Having all those custom alerts set means I'll get notified the second a fare sale pops up on any portion of my journey." Gary once scored a $980 fare on his Seattle-Tampa route over Christmas by pouncing when United had a major fare sale he received an alert about.
Expedia suggests tracking prices across multiple sites too. "I use Google Flights, Kayak, Expedia and direct airline sites to monitor fares when planning my holiday flights," explains Chris P. "Each site seems to load sales and discounts at different times, so I'll jump on whichever one alerts me to a low fare first, whether it's American Airlines directly or an OTA." Chris recommends setting price drop alerts at $25 or $50 increments so you receive early notification when airfare starts decreasing.

For holiday flights, experts advise tracking prices right up until departure. "Airlines fluctuate fares constantly in response to demand. You never know when a sale might pop up at the last minute," says Jen W. She booked a $630 roundtrip ticket to Costa Rica just three weeks before her Christmas trip thanks to an alert notifying her that fares had plummeted.

Besides monitoring daily fluctuations, keeping an eye on longer term airfare trends helps travelers identify the true cheapest time to book within a flexible date range. "I watch patterns over months for my Europe trips to see when the overall lowest fares loaded across different airlines," explains Gary M. He books when long-term trove reveal fares have reached their nadir, ignoring short-term fluctuations.

Searching for Savings: The Best Time to Book Flights for the Holidays - Be Ready to Act Quickly When You Find a Deal

"I've learned the hard way that cheap holiday flights get snatched up fast. You snooze, you lose when it comes to grabbing bargains," explains Amanda P. She recalls finding an enticing $29 one-way fare on Spirit Airlines for her Miami holiday trip. "I hesitated and left the tab open, thinking about it overnight. Of course by morning, all the cheap seats had vanished."

Having your personal info, payment details and travel documents ready in advance is key to booking quickly. "I make sure my passport won't expire before the trip and that my credit card is pre-loaded into all the airline and OTA sites I use," says Chris P. This preparation allowed him to finalize a fantastic $199 roundtrip fare to Costa Rica over Christmas in mere minutes when Google Flights alerted him to a price plunge.
Travelers also emphasize avoiding distractions when serious about booking flights. "As soon as my fare alerts go off, I stop everything I'm doing and focus completely on grabbing that deal," explains Jen W. She turned off email notifications and silence calls when swooping in on a $318 roundtrip from LAX to Hawaii over New Year's. Jen knew from experience the cheap seats would disappear instantly if she didn't act fast.

Being flexible and open minded is another hallmark of seasoned bargain hunters. "When flights to Cancun were insanely expensive for my holiday trip, I jumped on a $220 roundtrip to Belize instead thanks to a Scott's Cheap Flights alert," recounts Dan K. "It wasn't my original plan but I couldn't pass up the crazy low fare." He urges travelers not to fixate on a single destination or option when holidays deals arise.
Understanding airline policies helps speed up the booking process too. "I know which airlines let you hold reservations for 24 hours while deciding and which require immediate purchase," says Gary M. "This influences how I respond to price alerts." He'll pause briefly on Delta but acts instantly when sales pop up on American, knowing their cheap seats vanish rapidly if you don't buy fast.

Being ready to book last-minute flights around the holidays requires extra vigilance. "I don't mind booking a Christmas trip a few weeks out if the price is right," remarks Maria S. She flew from Dallas to LA for just $78 roundtrip thanks to jumping on a Spirit Airlines fare alert 11 days prior to travel. Maria had followed airfare trends and knew prices would spike close-in, so she booked immediately.
Avoiding emotional attachments helps travelers snag amazing last-minute deals too. "Just because I planned to visit my parents in Michigan doesn’t mean I won’t jump on a $125 roundtrip to Florida instead if that's where a major fare sale pops up," explains Chris P. Remaining objective allows him to pivot quickly when irresistible last-minute holiday flight bargains arise.

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