It happens every year. We celebrate Labor Day and it's a sleigh-ride into the holidays. As Thanksgiving is under 70 days away, it's time to start thinking about your holiday plans. And then the constant question looms: when's the best time to buy those plane tickets?
It's hard for consumers: There's so much (sometimes conflicting) information about when to buy tickets. One recent study found that booking on weekends can lead to 5% lower fares than those booked during the week. Yet Rick Seaney of FareCompare.com disagrees, and maintains that Tuesday afternoons are still ideal as airlines hike fares usually one weekend a month (but if you do buy during a hike don't fret, the hike will likely only be between $4 and $10 more what you might pay on a Tuesday afternoon).
So we asked Kayak and Expedia to break it down for us for holiday travel specifically, which has its own set of rules and tips, in terms of when to buy and when to fly.
According to Kayak, on average the cheapest airfare for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's are found between September and mid-October. Starting in late October, airfares increased by 17% for Thanksgiving, 51% for Christmas and 25% for New Year's Eve. For those wanting to go international, try to book sooner rather than later; if last year is any indication, airfare steadily increased as departures got closer.
Jeremy Boore, a Travel Analyst for Expedia.com, recommends purchasing your Christmas tickets around the end of September to early October, once domestic ticket prices have stabilized following fluctuation early in the month (if you wait, you're looking at average round trip ticket prices starting around $400). International travelers have more flexibility, he notes, and can wait until the beginning of November to book flights.
So you're looking at flights and need help whittling down the options? Here are the best days to fly during each holiday.
For domestic travelers looking for Thanksgiving flights, the best departure days are Monday and Tuesday, with airfares roughly 15 to 23% below average, according to Kayak (Expedia's Boore seconds a Monday departure). If you return on Thanksgiving Day, Friday or the following Tuesday, you're looking at savings of more than 20% (if you want to get really thrifty, fly in and out on Thanksgiving Day and save up to 36%).
Kayak recommends departing as close to Christmas Day as possible (like even Christmas Eve, notes Expedia's Boore) and try to depart and return during the weekends around Christmas, where fares were up to 24% above average last year). Same goes for New Year's.