It’s Time to Book Your Thanksgiving and Christmas Flights

You may not want to think about the holidays just yet—but you need to.

We know—you don’t even want to think about the holidays while your summer tan (or sunburn!) is still lingering. Unfortunately, now is exactly when you need to start figuring out your plans for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, unless you want to be left out in the cold when it comes to the best flights at the cheapest prices. Here’s what you need to know about booking holiday travel this year.

Book Your Flight Now

Book your Thanksgiving tickets as close to Labor Day as possible if you want to get the best fare. According to Hipmunk, flyers who booked Thanksgiving flights the week before Labor Day last year spent an average of $424 on airfare, and those who booked at the last minute (during the week of Thanksgiving) spent an average of $561. The good news: Last year, flights didn’t go up too much until October, increasing only an average of 5 percent throughout September.

Others agree—the travel search engine Skyscanner released a statement saying that flight prices decrease around 8.3 percent the week before Labor Day.

…But Wait on Hotels

Hipmunk’s data shows that while waiting is detrimental for flights, it pays off for hotel reservations. Travelers who booked their hotels in November last year saved an average of $50 more than those who reserved earlier.

Try Different Websites

Prices can vary wildly for the same flight, so run your search on different websites to compare. We like Kayak for its calendar search, which lets you see all fares for a given month on a route.

Be sure to set up price alerts for your chosen holiday travel route, so you can be notified when prices drop. Our sister site Airfarewatchdog has a great tool for that. And if you find a particularly good fare on a booking website, always try the airline’s direct website before you snag it—sometimes you can save a few dollars by booking directly.

Nervous about booking early? Book through Priceline—the website has a Best Price Guarantee that will either rebook your flight if you find it for a cheaper price or refund you the difference. (The lower fare must be on the exact same flight.)

Cheapest Days to Fly

Flights are generally more expensive on Fridays and Sundays, and this is exacerbated over Thanksgiving, when everyone wants to fly back on the Sunday after the holiday. Expect prices to be shockingly high on the days right around Thanksgiving. Try to space out your travel and fly on the Monday or Tuesday before and after the holiday. (The same applies for Christmas and New Year’s Day—the further away from the actual holiday you can travel, the better.) Or, try traveling on the day of the holiday itself. According to a report last year by Orbitz, the average airfare on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving was $499, whereas flying on the actual holiday was only $406. Likewise, the Saturday before Christmas averaged a fare of $591, whereas flying on Christmas Eve only averaged $408. The Saturday after Christmas was the most expensive departure date of the holiday week, with an average airfare of $513.

Consider Your Connections

The holidays bring bad weather and lots of extra travelers to airports, so plan carefully. When at all possible, opt for a nonstop flight—every connection increases the chances that your flight will be delayed or canceled. If you do have a connection, make sure to leave plenty of extra time for those holiday delays, and try to fly through warm-weather airports instead of cold ones to avoid weather-related cancellations.

What did we miss? Tell us your favorite holiday-travel booking tips in the comments.

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By Caroline Morse Teel

Unfortunately for her bank account, Principal Editor Caroline Morse Teel is powerless to resist a good flight deal. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline.

Caroline joined Boston-based SmarterTravel in 2011 after living in Ireland, London, and Manhattan. She's traveled to all seven continents, jumped out of planes, and bungeed off bridges in the pursuit of a good story. She loves exploring off-the-beaten path destinations, anything outdoorsy, and all things adventure.

Her stories have also appeared online at USA Today, Business Insider, Huffington Post, Yahoo,, TripAdvisor, Buzzfeed, Jetsetter, Oyster, Airfarewatchdog, and others.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "Earplugs. A good pair has saved my sleep and sanity many times!"

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: Hiking Mount Kilimanjaro.

Travel Motto: "Don't be boring."

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Aisle (when the first class private suite isn't available)."

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