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The Best Time to Book December Holiday Travel Is...

Nov. 07, 2011
4 min read
The Best Time to Book December Holiday Travel Is...
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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!

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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!

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