You may be wondering if it’s too early to be thinking about booking holiday flights for this year, but trust me, it’s never too early to starting thinking about them. Holiday season is nothing short of manic, so anything you can do to steal a march on the millions of others flying for the holidays is going to do you some big favors. Here are some of the best tips I know for booking holiday flights:
1. Book Early
Waiting too long to buy tickets is one of the biggest mistakes you can make when booking holiday flights. Seats for travel during the fall and winter season sell quickly, and the closer you get to the holidays, the higher the remaining seats will be priced. Even if you aren’t hunting for the best bargain, your route and seating choices will also diminish the longer you wait. Based on how far out you book, some major airlines will hold tickets for 24 hours while you continue to shop around. The truly indecisive can also look into refundable tickets, but should know that they tend to cost a bit more for the option.
2. Make Sure Flying is the Best Choice
One of the first considerations when you book holiday flights is to see if flying is really your best choice. Do a gas and mileage calculation to see if driving might be a better option. For example, the most popular 2012 minivan gets 397 miles to the full 21 gallon tank. Even at $5.00 per gallon, a family of 7 could travel 800 miles round trip for about $210.00, less than the cost of one round trip airline ticket for the same trip. Alternately, check rail options and even the bus – which can be a good choice during the holidays.
3. Fly in the Morning
Airports usually have a lighter late-night schedule so booking early morning flights can help you avoid the worst of delays. Additionally, airport cleaning staff start work really early (think 3AM clock in) so if you fly early, you get to enjoy the airport before thousands of your fellow travelers have tramped through and soiled the surroundings.
4. Make the Most of Memberships
Priority boarding, free baggage or shortened security lines are among the various privileges of membership. Elite members could also enjoy lounge access. If you belong to an airline loyalty program, check their fares first.
5. Look for Winter Sales
Winter sales are offered sporadically and are best suited for people who can travel during off-peak holiday times. Look for dates from the middle of December through the first week of the New Year. Not for last minute trips or travelers on a strict timetable though.
6. Sign up for Fare Alerts
Take advantage of travel websites that offer fare alerts. Set up your preferred dates and routes and they will email the latest, best rates matching your search. Look out for price drops and be ready to book holiday flights when fares fall within your budget.
7. Book Direct, Nonstop Flights
During the holidays, more stops on your route equal more chances to get grounded or delayed due to weather, mechanical problems or missed connections. They may cost a little more upfront, but the chance to avoid being one of those weary, stranded travelers on the evening news is priceless.
8. Factor in Fees
When booking flights for the holidays, remember that you will likely be traveling with more items than usual – think presents and fruitcake – and that can result in overweight baggage fees. Additionally some cut-rate prices do not figure in a la cart options like in-flight blankets. A good rule is to estimate at least $20 extra for things like food and drink per traveler for short flights. Expect to spend more on long flights or those with several connections.
9. Be Flexible
One day can cause ticket prices to fluctuate by hundreds of dollars. When considering how to book flights for the holidays, the savvy traveler will give themselves more options with a range of dates versus a strict schedule. The ideal departure date would be more than a week prior to the holiday, with flying on the holiday itself a close second.
If you’re traveling for Christmas and New Year, follow these tips for booking holiday flights and you’ll be so pleased you did! Are you going home for the holidays?