When to Buy & Fly for Holiday Travel

Time flies! And if you plan on flying for the holidays, time is going even faster!

Yes, it’s already that time of year again, when we drive ourselves crazy trying to plan a trip AND save money. We know the airlines are banking on this season because there are SO many travelers and only so many seats, but we also know there must be some way to save a bit.

holiday-tableThis year we have some handy hints to get you home for that holiday dinner with a little more jingle in your pocket. There are two time sensitive questions for air travel, which are compounded during winter holidays. We address them both with advice gleaned from personal experience, conventional wisdom, and the occasional cold, hard fact.

Question #1: When to Fly

This is a tricky question because much of the answer is determined by your schedule. However, if you can manage to fly more than a week before or after a holiday, you’re likely to save a bit. For maximum savings, consider flying on the actual holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day usually have the lowest pricing of the season since most people don’t want to fly those days.


Since Thanksgiving is always on Thursday, many people like to turn it into a long holiday weekend. This means heavy travel on Wednesday and Sunday surrounding the holiday. Consider leaving on Monday or Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, and returning home Saturday; those days are often less expensive. You can save even more if you can stretch the holiday to the following Tuesday, or begin earlier than the weekend before.


Christmas falls on Wednesday this year, making it hard to pull off the holiday weekend trick, so expect more people than usual to turn it into a weeklong holiday. Generally, travel is less expensive before December 20th but this year we’re seeing marginally lower prices Monday and Tuesday before Christmas. Don’t expect much lower prices the week after Christmas, though, since New Year’s Eve is just one week later. Unfortunately, if your flights fall on almost any day between December 20th and January 2nd, you’re likely to pay as much as $500 more than you would for flights before/after those dates.

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Question #2: When to Buy

You’ve probably heard lots of “tricks” to reduce air fare: Buy on Tuesday, over the weekend, in the afternoon, or only through sites like Expedia. None of those will save you as much money as this one piece of advice: Buy early. Most travel experts put the cost of delaying your purchase at $5 per day through the middle of month before the holiday, and as must as $10 per day during the final two weeks before a holiday. In short, now is the best time to buy your tickets.

Money in the Air

More Savings

It’s hard to find a true deal during the holidays, but there are other ways to bring down the cost of travel. One of the easiest, if it’s a short trip, is to pack everything into your carry-on and save a bit by not checking bags. Some other ideas:

  • Look at a range of days; you can save by flying on at least one “off” day
  • Consider early morning and late night flights
  • Check airports within a few hour’s drive, especially if they are larger airports
  • Don’t limit yourself to non-stop flights; sometimes odd routes cost less and add up to more miles. Bonus!

Our Best Advice

Don’t make yourself crazy shopping for bargains because you’re not likely to find many. If you see a reasonable price, buy it because the best deals are not going to go to those who wait and see. In fact, the very best deals may have already been gotten. By acting quickly and flying smart, though, you can enjoy the holidays more affordably.

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