Even for those of us who love to travel, Labor Day can sneak up on a body. Last year, almost 36 million Americans packed up their favorite inflatable pool toys and traveled that weekend. My guess is, a whole lot of them booked their trips at the last minute: and spent way more money on their long weekend getaway than necessary because of it.
Warren Chang, Vice President and general manager of Fly.com—an airfare search engine—would remind us that it’s never too early to book holiday travel, which includes Thanksgiving and winter break, as well as Labor Day. Here are a few other tips he gleaned by studying company data:
If you can stay an extra day, leave on Saturday instead of Friday. Or, in general, just have flexibility with your travel dates. “It’s quite easy to save at least 25 percent if you just adjust your departure date [or] return date by a day,” says Chang. He studied a New York to Miami roundtrip flight, and notes that adding a day in Miami could drop the price from $244 to $153.
Understand “base loading”
Sometimes just knowing why flights are cheaper is enough to get us on top of our plans. “One of the reasons flights are cheaper right now,” says Chang, “is that airlines fully expect travelers to start looking for airfare as the holidays get closer, and they’ve priced [them] accordingly. They’re interested in what’s called base loading—selling a certain number of seats at a discounted rate so they have a certain percentage of the flight already full.” The logic makes sense: Airlines want to fill flights, but they’ll save pricey seats for last-minute travelers.
Full-on Norman Rockwell Americana intimates that the only thing to do on a summer weekend is lounge on the beach, on a porch, near a lake, or by a grill. But if you’re curious about, say, Europe, or Florida, know that those destinations might be less pricey, says Chang. The same probably won’t be true of places like Portland, Maine and Provincetown, Massachusetts.
Don’t wait till the 4th of July
Prices tend to take a big jump after the 4th, says Chang, when everyone’s minds seem to simultaneously turn to the next vacation—and airlines take advantage by hiking prices. “What you see is it just goes up along a curve,” he says. “As the date gets closer, the prices go up.”
Think about business travel destinations
In a long-distance relationship between Chicago and New York? Good news: Business hubs tend to have lower rates at the end of the summer, since corporate travel takes a dip in popularity and airlines are desperately trying to fill those seats.
Reserve cars and hotels now
It’s great to get a good, cheap flight now. But it’s the worst when you snag a cheap flight only to see that you’ve picked a destination with insanely expensive hotels. So check both before taking the plunge—and for goodness sake, book cars and hotels now.
And really, book your flight!
Fly.com data from summer 2015 revealed that New York to Miami flights were approximately $270 in late May, dipping to $250 by June 4th—and spiking to nearly $500 by the end of August. Think about how many golden inflatable swans and margaritas the saved $250 would buy you! So get out there and book.