By Alison Fox
October 15, 2019

Temperatures have started to dip and many people are pulling out their sweaters and boots. But right on the heels of fall weather (and pumpkin spice lattes, of course) comes holiday cheer.

Whether you’re going on a long-awaited vacation over the holiday break touring all of Europe’s best Christmas markets, or visiting family for a big holiday dinner, one of the first concerns is usually getting there.

The holidays are the most expensive and busiest times to travel and, typically, booking a flight far in advance — at least six weeks — before you head out the door is your best bet. But if you’re a procrastinator (and aren’t we all sometimes?), there’s still hope for you.

If you’re traveling within the U.S., you still have time to book travel for Christmas and even Thanksgiving, according to Steve Sintra, KAYAK’s regional director for North America. On average, Sintra told Travel + Leisure, prices tend to hover between $216 and $220 for Turkey Day.

“For Thanksgiving, prices don’t fluctuate much between 2 – 6 weeks out,” Sintra said. “Prices jump one week out from the holiday, when we see an increase of about 13 [percent].”

And for Christmas, waiting until the last minute may pay off even more.

“For Christmas, two weeks out is the sweet spot to book, when median airfare is just under $300,” he said. “But of course, factors including when you fly in and out also play a big role. We always say that if you see a price you’re comfortable with – go for it!”

If your idea of a holiday getaway is more about warm weather and sipping coconut water on the beach, you can still book an international holiday trip and save. (Thanksgiving also happens to be one of the best times to fly around the world)

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Sintra suggests booking international travel for Thanksgiving around the third week of October — or about four weeks in advance. And for Christmas, he said prices should stay fairly stable from now until about a week before the holiday.

If December in Bali sounds like your kind of thing (it certainly sounds like ours), you’re in luck: Sintra said KAYAK’s data shows you could save up to 24 percent on travel to the beachy hideaway if you book before Nov. 4th.

Here,  Sintra shares even more tips on how to save the most money for your holiday travel so you can spend more on presents and less on seat selection.

Fly on the Actual Holiday

While you may want to arrive a few days before a holiday to get settled, if you’re willing to fly on the actual holiday, you can save some big bucks. Last year, Sintra said, people paid upwards of $400 to fly out the Saturday before Thanksgiving and fly back the Sunday after. But people who flew on Thanksgiving day were looking at median prices in the $200-range.

If You Can’t Fly on the Holiday, Fly As Close to It As Possible

For Christmas, Sintra said that your biggest savings will be on Christmas Eve or Day. But if that’s not an option, your next best bet is leaving on Dec. 23 and returning on Dec. 26. Whatever you do, avoid flying on the Saturday before Christmas or the Sunday after as those are the most expensive days to travel.

Try Traveling After the Holiday Is Over

It may be nice to decorate the tree and sing Christmas carols in the street, but Sintra said one of the best ways to save money is to travel after the holiday is over. In fact, median airfare within the U.S. is 39 percent lower the weekend after Thanksgiving compared with the actual holiday weekend.

“If your priority is seeing friends and family and you are flexible with timing, you can save a lot of money by traveling after the actual holiday, when median airfare is significantly lower,” he said.

Use the Tools You Have

According to Sintra, you can save money by tracking a flight price and making an educated decision on when to book.

“One of my favorite tools is Price Forecast, which shows the likelihood of your flight price rising within 7 days – it even makes a recommendation on if you should book now or wait,” he said. “Travelers should also consider setting up Price Alerts, which are custom notifications that alert travelers when prices changes for a flight or hotel they’re interested in.”

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