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Holiday Flights: Tips for Saving Money—and Actually Getting to Your Destination | Frommer's Joel Kramer

Holiday Flights: Tips for Saving Money—and Actually Getting to Your Destination

There are few bigger problems, budget-wise, than having to buy a ticket to fly over the Thanksgiving or the Christmas/New Year's holidays. Prices are always at their peak, and discounts are nil.

But tell that to your grandmother. Or to the other eager family members who insist you fly home for the holidays.

So even though the fares are a killer then and the crowds at the airport will demolish what’s left of your soul, many of us ending up flying for the holidays. If you have to fly during the upcoming holiday season, here are a few tips to help preserve your bank account balance—and your sanity.

  1. Shop for tickets at the right time. According to the experts at airfare search engine, buying at the right time could mean big savings in 2018/2019. They are predicting that those who purchase their tickets for Thanksgiving travel sometime during the week of October 1 will pay 23% less on their tickets than those who book earlier or later. The “golden week” for Christmas/New Year's purchases is October 15, say Hipmunk's data crunchers. They determined that booking over that week will yield a 25% savings.
  2. Fly at the right time. Every year, those who fly on the actual holidays (so on November 22, December 25 or 31 or January 1 this year) spend much less than those who fly in the days leading up to these dates. According to Hipmunk, doing so this year will lead to a 20% savings off prices on the surrounding days.
  3. Book a non-stop flight and one early in the day. This is less of a budget tip than it is a strategy for actually getting where you’re going. It’s important to remember that the holiday season, particularly Christmas/New Year's, is not only a pricey time to fly, but it can also be risky in terms of the weather. In the last decade, winter storms have wreaked havoc on holiday travel. Delays from those storms tend to pile up as the day goes on as planes in snow-blasted cities miss their departure times, causing waits and cancellations even outside the storm zone. By flying earlier, you’re more likely to get a plane that was parked at your airport overnight, and the day's delays will not yet have piled up. Booking a non-stop helps eliminate uncertainty because the fewer times you have to take off and land during a storm period, the more likely you are to get to your destination on time.
  4. Consider having gifts shipped directly to your holiday destination. Nowadays, the lowest airfares you’ll see will almost always be for basic economy airfares. That class of ticket always charges hefty fees for checking luggage. So bringing only a carry-on can be a big money-saver. Paying to check all your gifts may cost more than it would cost to ship them to where you're going, especially considering the shipping discounts many online vendors offer in the weeks leading up to Christmas.