The Best Time to Book December Holiday Travel Is…

by on November 7, 2011 · 14 comments

in Travel Industry

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A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the best times to buy Thanksgiving airfare, and now it’s time to start considering your December holiday travel plans.

As I said before, it can be darn near impossible to figure out when exactly you should buy your holiday airfares—after all, we’ve probably all experienced that sinking feeling of seeing a fare that we’ve just bought go lower. Then again, I think it feels worse not to buy a fare because you think it will go lower only to see it skyrocket.

This is especially true when it comes to the holidays, typically one of the heaviest travel periods of the year, and a time when people have the least flexibility since they want to spend the most time possible either celebrating with loved ones (or getting away from them by heading to a fabulous beach or ski slope!).

In my Thanksgiving post, I talked about using Kayak’s fantastic system, which gathers historical data and tracks airfares over certain periods to help you decide when to lock in your travel plans and purchase those fares.

Well, the good folks over there sent me another useful chart plotting the vicissitudes of airfare spikes and valleys over the course of December, which I’ve put in below. No surprise here, airfares shoot up astronomically as Christmas day approaches –it looks like the increases become exponential right around December 18 or 20. What might be surprising, however, is that in the weeks leading up until then, they are actually pretty low compared to the rest of the year, and there are a few dips that mean airfares on certain days (looks like the 12 and 13, and possibly the 16 and 17) are downright cheap! So, if you have a few extra days off, or a little flexibility in your schedule, you might actually be able to score some fantastic deals.

That goes to show that Kayak’s credo that, “strategic booking, not early booking, is the key to getting the best deals.”

Meanwhile, I also got a bit of in-house analysis from the Kayak people, and here’s what they have to say:

The average airfare for domestic travel in the US around December 25 is $433, and making your booking during the first week of December up until the 10th of the month yields the best deals—about 6% below average—before prices begin to rise again. For domestic fares, the highest holiday prices were actually paid by the early birds back in July, who paid up to 27% more than the rest of us for their tickets.

For international travel originating in the US, the average airfare around December 25 is a whopping $1,251. For these flights, the lowest fares were booked back in July (sorry procrastinators!) and were a decent 16% below the average fare, while the highest prices are paid in late December (last-minute) and are an astonishing 40% above average!

So the takeaway is, if you haven’t booked your domestic holiday travel yet, there’s still hope—just be alert the first week of December, and if you find something that fits your budget, book it because prices will only rise after that.

For international travelers…well, start thinking about next year!

As always, let me know if you have any questions or comments or analysis of your own—and I’d love to hear your holiday travel stories. Plus, if you want any destination advice, feel free to ask Eric or me and we’ll give you our best recommendations!

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Kay

    This is great information. Could you do a similar post on Memorial Day/Labor Day travel? I’m planning on going on mini-breaks during those holidays this year, and I’m trying to decide if I should pull the trigger now, or wait.

  • Carsten Varming

    I travel to Europe every year for Christmas to see my family and September is the absolute cheapest time to get tickets for peak Christmas time. Generally, the airlines start to fiddle with the prices in late August / early September. You can still find cheap tickets in October, but later it get difficult. And remember that cheap Christmas tickets are around %25 more expensive than the cheapest possible tickets (as seen in the cold winter months to Europe).

    Now if you don’t mind paying $2k for a business ticket then Christmas and Thanksgiving are the absolute cheapest times fly business, and you can get that price any day in September, October, and November.

  • Gregillinois

    On the same subject any suggestions on using miles for next December? We did Bezize last year and were going to do Delta but the flights were there one day in Feb and gone 3 days later. They said you can only go 11 months in advance so do people really hover over computer at 1:00 am 11 months in advance to get a limited # of tickets? We ended up using AA miles and Belize was incredible.

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  • L.Yang

    the spike at the end is scary!

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  • Rzlh50

    Thanks for sharing the data. I have to say the data is against my personal experience though. I rarely stay home for Christmas. My experience is that one will have to start monitoring the price starting from the summer time, and purchase it once there is a significant dip. A website like Kayak is helpful because it can send you daily price update for the routes/dates you select. I rarely see a good price if the purchase is made in December.

  • Dan Treviño

    Does the strategy for New Year’s just shift by a week or is it the same??

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  • Swati

    I need to travel from Singapore to London this december and in the airlines that I’m looking at the fares are very expensive as of today. Ive learnt that $1200 round trip is a common fare but thats not what im getting. Ive been advised to wait until august since airlines have promo fares out due to local NATAS travel fair. I’m not sure after reading your post if i should wait. Any thoughts?

  • Becky

    General question- if I want to book travel in march would it be better to book before or after holiday season? I heard some people say that sometimes prices dip after holiday season since people arent travelling – is that true?

  • Ashwin F

    Hi.. Can you advise when did you book your tickets and did you infact get a good price? I am planning a Singapore to Europe trip in December this year and want to know the best time to book.

  • Ashwin F

    Hi.. Can you advise when did you book your tickets and did you infact get a good price? I am planning a Singapore to Europe trip in December this year and want to know the best time to book.

  • Swati

    Book In September in my opinion. I booked end of July and then prices went down in August and stayed the same until last week sept. They again sky rocketed in the last quarter since holiday mood kicks in. Have fun!

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