How to get the best price on a holiday plane ticket

CNN Travel 8 days ago

While travel advice abounds for the best times to buy the most affordable holiday plane tickets, it's hard to escape reality: Flying during some of the year's busiest travel periods generally isn't going to be cheap.

In this era of packed airplanes, smaller seats and fees for extra leg room, what airline is going to offer inexpensive fares around Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year's? Common business sense dictates that high prices will follow high demand.

What are procrastinating travelers to do besides drive or take the train to get to their destinations? CNN checked with airfare experts on time-honored ways to dull the price pain.

Thanksgiving

If you fly on actual holidays, you may have a much easier time going through security. And your ticket might be less expensive.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

When we're counting our blessings, Thanksgiving ticket prices aren't usually among them.

"Prices for Thanksgiving travel start high because the airlines know travelers have little flexibility in terms of destinations and dates," writes Patrick Surry of Hopper Research.

He warns that "the busiest and most expensive day to depart is Wednesday." (That's November 21 in 2018). Same holds true for a Sunday return (November 25). He says you might save money flying on Thanksgiving morning and returning midweek.

Cheapair.com offers similar advice, also encouraging that you try to either fly out early (the Monday before Thanksgiving Day) or return late (on Tuesday, November 27, or later).

Google's travel team, which released new features in 2018 to help you navigate prices, also suggests booking before October, when you're likely to see a big jump in prices.

Finally, the advice from the website Kayak is similar: You get the best airfare deals when booking Thanksgiving and holiday travel in September. Kayak says that after September 17, flight prices steadily increase, reaching the highest point in mid-October. For those traveling overseas, book travel before October 20 to score the best price, Kayak suggests.

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Christmas and New Year's

Generally, Christmas and New Year's function much like Thanksgiving: High demand, high prices. Again, off-peak flying is your friend.

Kayak says people can also benefit by booking Christmas travel in September. The website says you should definitely book travel around Christmastime before November 25, which is when prices start to steadily climb.

However, Skyscanner has good news for people who procrastinate. You might pick up a bargain if you wait until the week of December 19-25 to buy your flight. It's a roll of the dice and you're not likely to have a pick of seats, but it's an option.

Cheapair.com can also provide you with trending airfares to keep you abreast of the latest changes.

Alternate airports

Take advantage of options when you have them. If you're flying to New York, you can go with LaGuardia (pictured), but there are four other airports.

Robert Alexander/Archive Photos/Getty Images

The airport you use can make a difference on how much you spend.

Always look into alternate airports -- the New York area has five airports and Houston has two -- and check Southwest.com in addition to Kayak or other search engines, Airfarewatchdog's George Hobica says.

On some supercompetitive routes (think Chicago-New York), there will always be "a few scattered seats and flight times that will go on sale," he says.

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Don't forget to count the fees

Don't forget to think about extras fees such as checked bags when calculating your travel costs.

Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images

Remember to factor in baggage fees, extra leg room fees and food purchases before booking flights. Airline credit card holders may get a free checked bag and other perks.

Make sure you consider your ground transportation costs as well.

Other advice

Think about shipping your presents early instead of carrying them on the plane.

Adam Berry/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images

Finally, some other tips and considerations:

-- Check flight status: Julie Hall of AAA says check your flight status before leaving for the airport. "This is especially important around the winter holidays in the event of inclement weather that may impact flight itineraries," she says.

-- Insurance: Cheapflights reminds passengers to keep unpredictable winter weather in mind and consider getting travel insurance.

-- Early birds: Delays are less likely early in the morning, Orbitz says. You may miss your sleep getting up extra early, but you may also miss the crowds and misery.

-- Delay a week: Orbitz also points out that fares -- along with hotel rooms -- often drop a lot the week after Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's.

-- Presents: If you're flying to see family, Orbitz suggest shipping your presents instead of bringing them on the plane. Saves hassles and fees.

-- Go global: International airfares can be a good deal for Americans this time of year. So if your family is understanding about pushing Christmas to the spring, maybe a holiday vacation is in order.

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