If you have postponed booking your holiday trip, don’t wait any longer. Travel demand skyrocketed this summer. And it doesn’t show many signs of slowing down this holiday season. Unfortunately for customers, rising demand also means skyrocketing travel costs.
Airfare, hotel stays, car rental costs and more are at some of the highest points in years. Ultimately, if you’re planning to travel for Thanksgiving and the December holidays, you’ll want to act sooner rather than later. But before you make up your mind, make sure you know the best tips and tricks so you’re not stuck paying a small fortune to fly around the holidays.
Whether you’re planning to travel to the state, across the pond to Europe, or across the country, there are tips for getting cheaper flights. We’ve put together a list of the top five methods for finding cheap vacation flights — here’s what you need to know.
Traditionally, flights are most expensive on the days when everyone wants to travel. While there is no best day to book your flights, there are better days to travel than others. For most of the year, traveling on days earlier in the week or in the middle of the week is usually cheaper than traveling on Friday or weekend days.
You want to avoid peak times, especially around the holidays. For Thanksgiving, that means avoiding the Sunday before and after the Thursday holidays. Better yet, if you can travel on Thanksgiving itself, you can save a lot. Try to fly before Christmas on Christmas Eve or before December 22 to save. Try to leave before the New Year on your return flight to get cheaper flights.
If you have the flexibility to work remotely, consider traveling a few days before your vacation starts.
For example, if you want to travel from New York to Dallas for Thanksgiving, a round-trip flight that departs the Tuesday before the holiday and returns the following Sunday will cost $548 on United Airlines.
However, if you can work remotely — or have extra time to take off — and travel from the Sunday before Thanksgiving to the following Tuesday, you can get non-stop flights with United for just $248-$300 less than the peak day route. .
Of course, not everyone will have the flexibility to travel on the cheapest days. There are plenty of business travelers who can only leave the office during the “traditional” vacation travel dates. But if you’re someone who can work remotely, it’s definitely worth considering extending — or shortening — your trip to potentially save hundreds of dollars on flights.
Many major metropolitan areas have multiple airports for flyers to choose from. New York has LaGuardia (LGA), Kennedy (JFK), and Newark (EWR) airports; Chicago has O’Hare (ORD) and Midway (MDW); Houston has George Bush-Intercontinental (IAH) and Hobby (HOU); and the list goes on.
When you search for flights, check to see if your destination has a secondary airport serving the area. Often it can be cheaper to fly to those smaller airports rather than the main airport serving a particular region.
For example, if you want to travel from the Boston area to Orlando on major Thanksgiving travel days, you can do so for a $463 round trip if you were flying with JetBlue Airways from Boston Logan International Airport (BOS).
Or you can fly from nearby Hartford (BDL) for a more reasonable $344 round trip on the same dates with Frontier and Breeze, noting however that you need to book separate tickets and the return with Breeze has a short stop in Charleston (CHS ).
If you’re not committed to a particular destination for your vacation trip, but just know you want to get away from it all, you should use Google Flights’ Explore feature. With the free service you can see which destination has the cheapest plane ticket.
The Explore function allows you to search with specific dates or with flexible dates within a given month. You can choose your place of origin and let Google do the work for you. From there, you can simply click on the destination that appeals to you and fits your budget and proceed to book your flights.
Google Flights also allows you to set up fare alerts and receive an email if and when the cost of a particular ticket increases or decreases. This is especially helpful if you set up alerts months in advance when you plan to travel so you can get a good deal if it arises.
Alternatively, there are services that help you find cheap flights. Thrifty Traveler Premium and Scott’s Cheap Flights are two of our favorite membership-based tools for finding cheap deals. With any of the services, you can subscribe to get flight deals delivered to your inbox every day.
Many budget carriers have made strides in recent years to improve both their operations and the customer experience. While they may offer cheap rates, they are notorious for charging significant fees for extras you may want, such as checked baggage, seat selection, carry-on and, in some cases, even water.
And while “legacy” airlines like American, Delta, and United have mimicked the low-cost experience with basic economy fares, you can avoid them by simply buying a “regular” economy ticket. But if you choose to fly with a low-cost airline, you run a higher risk of being delayed or even stuck if the weather or other factors hinder your flights.
Older airlines tend to have larger fleets and higher flight frequencies, meaning you have a better chance of getting to your final destination if something goes wrong on the day of travel.
Stake your points and miles to use
If you’re not very lucky finding flights that fit your budget, you can turn to all the points or miles you’ve earned flying or using a credit card for travel rewards.
All major US airlines have their own loyalty programs. If you have taken a flight with, for example, American, Delta, United, Southwest or JetBlue in the past and have added your frequent flyer number to the reservation, you will be rewarded with points and miles in exchange for your business.
And if you’ve accumulated enough points and miles in your accounts that have been dormant during the pandemic, the holidays may just be the best time to use them.
For example, you can use your United Airlines MileagePlus miles on a flight from San Francisco to New York this Thanksgiving. A nonstop round trip flight around Thanksgiving will cost you 51,500 miles and only $11.20 in taxes and fees instead of $538 for the same flights.
While you may not always get the best value from your miles, it’s a good idea to save money if you want to save money.
Also note that if you don’t currently have enough United miles in your account, you can also transfer them from Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program. If you have a Chase Sapphire card and earn Ultimate Rewards, those points will transfer directly 1-to-1 to United Airlines.
In general, it’s easier to use points and miles to book flights around popular travel times if you book far in advance, but as the example above shows, if you have some flexibility and have accumulated points and miles, you can even get good find deals at this stage of the game.
The holiday travel season has arrived and millions of Americans are going out to celebrate. If you haven’t committed your travel plans yet, now is the time to do so. While the holiday season is usually an expensive time to travel, it is still possible to find affordable airfare for this year.
Looking for a travel credit card? Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as ours best travel credit cards of 2022.