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When Is The Best Time to Buy Holiday Flights?

Nov. 21, 2012
4 min read
When Is The Best Time to Buy Holiday Flights?
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The holidays are among the busiest travel times of the year – making it even more difficult than usual to gauge when is the right time is to buy your tickets, what alternative routes you might take, and how you’re going to get your whole family to your destination. If you've procrastinated and still haven't booked your flights yet the good people at have compiled another handy list of statistics to help the average traveler figure out how to get the best deal to suit their specific travel needs. Here’s a quick snapshot of the details:

-The average roundtrip airfare around Christmas is expected to be $528 domestically and over double that at $1,105 internationally this year.

-The average roundtrip airfare around New Year’s Eve is expected to be $497 for domestic travel and $1,070 for international travel.

-Book as soon as possible: starting now, airfares for the rest of the year – both domestic and international – will begin to rise steeply, especially for international travel. Thanksgiving Day looks like it will be the day fares start climbing.

-For the week around Christmas, departing on Christmas Day itself (December 25) and returning on the 28th can save up to 21% on airfares on average. Leaving the day after Christmas also presents some inexpensive opportunities, especially if you get back before New Year’s. On international itineraries, Christmas Eve is by far the most expensive departure date, so try to avoid it.

Domestic Christmas fares are still decent but will begin to rise sharply after December 5.

-The most expensive days to depart and return are Saturday, December 22, and Saturday, December 29, so try to fly during the week to save some money.

-If you’re planning New Year’s Eve travel, departing on New Year’s Eve itself and returning on January 3 or after is your best value proposition (though don’t wait too long since the 5-6 are the weekend this year, and chances are everyone will be scrambling to get home by then). However, for New Year’s Eve travel, departing on the day after Christmas and returning over the weekend presents the most expensive fares while leaving on New Year’s Eve itself and coming back after a day or two, or 5-6 days later will bring down your overall fare.

-For those who haven’t firmed up NYE plans yet, don’t worry. Domestic fares will still be decent for about another week, then are actually projected to drop the first week of December before climbing exponentially the week after and through the holidays. That’s true for both domestic and international travel. Booking a fare on December 5th seems to be right in the sweet spot for both.

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International New Year's Eve fares also spike after December 5.

Then just a few reminders about travel in general, year-round:

-Consumers tend to find the lowest airfares 21 days prior to departure for domestic trips and 34 days prior to departure internationally. Booking six months out is actually 19% more expensive than 21 days out for domestic fares by 19% on average.

-The cheapest domestic itineraries depart on a Saturday and return on a Monday – these dates yield fares 16% lower than the average.

-For weeklong international trips, departing on a Tuesday and returning on a Wednesday is 21% cheaper than the average fare.

Remember, use the best credit cards for purchasing airfare. I personally put all of my airfare on my Amex Premier Rewards Gold card that gives 3 points per dollar spent on airfare (4x if booked through Amex Travel). The Sapphire Preferred card gives 2.14 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar (2x base on all travel plus a 7% annual dividend). I use this card when purchasing airfare from foreign websites since there are no foreign transaction fees.

Cheap airfares are only one factor. The most important thing is to get where you want to go…without blowing your entire annual travel budget on it. So as we approach the holiday travel glut, keep these things in mind so you can save some money to spend on maximizing your holiday shopping.

You can check out all these fun facts and more in this Kayak blog post.
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Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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