Is Now the Best Time to Book Thanksgiving Flights?

Sep 27, 2016

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The holidays — is there a more stressful time to fly? Despite the crowds and the stress, most of us will still take to the skies (or the roads) this holiday season to reunite with family and friends.

If you haven’t yet booked flights for Thanksgiving, you might be kicking yourself — figuring that the best time to book Thanksgiving flights has already passed. So, when is the best time to book Thanksgiving flights? While we don’t have hundreds of thousands of historical airfares to analyze, let’s check with some websites that do have this data to see what they’ve found.

CheapAir records show that September is the month when travelers book more flights for Thanksgiving than in all previous months combined. Since we’re at the end of September, if you haven’t booked already, flights are a lot more full than they were just a month ago. If you’re traveling as a family group, CheapAir concludes that booking soon is best if you want to get the group all on the same flights for a reasonable cost.

If you’re traveling alone — or as a smaller group — and haven’t yet booked your Thanksgiving flights, your procrastination may pay off. Surprisingly, Kayak found that the cheapest time to book Thanksgiving travel is just 2-4 weeks in advance. The site found that average price paid for flights booked in early November dropped to just $415 — a 24% savings off of the most-expensive time to book Thanksgiving flights.

Skyscanner’s just-released research comes to a similar conclusion. Looking at historical prices on a week-by-week basis, it found that the week of October 31 is the cheapest time to book Thanksgiving flights. Booking during this week in 2015 netted an average savings of 7.73% off the average price. Nervous about waiting that long? The week of October 17 was also one of the cheapest weeks to book — with a savings of 5.1% off the average.

There’s a catch, though: You aren’t likely to find 4-5 seats on the same flight for this cheap price. The airlines will drop the fare on 1-2 seats on less-full flights to gradually fill them in. Also, the discounted fares aren’t likely to be on nonstop flights or at convenient times — as these flights are more likely to have already been booked by less price-sensitive travelers.

Tips for Saving Money

Holiday travel prices are almost always going to be painful, but there are some ways to save. If you’re going to drive to your airport anyways, check airfares from airports in nearby cities. Similarly, if you’re going to be renting a car at your destination, check prices for flights into nearby airports. Driving a couple of extra hours could save you a bundle.

I'm beyond excited about my new Chase Sapphire Reserve.
You could use the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s $300 annual travel statement credit toward Thanksgiving flights.

Don’t need to be back in the office Monday morning? The Sunday after Thanksgiving is historically one of the busiest travel days of the year. So, if you can spare an extra day or two off from work, spend a couple of extra days with family and fly back Monday or even Tuesday. For searching both nearby airports and various dates, Google Flights is an excellent tool.

Whenever you book flights, make sure to use the right credit card. If you’re a Chase Sapphire Reserve cardmember, the $300 travel statement credit will certainly take the sting out of pricey holiday flights. While you have until the end of the year to make eligible purchases, you don’t want to risk losing such a valuable benefit. Also, the Sapphire Reserve has excellent travel insurance coverage — which might be especially helpful in the case of a weather delay. Plus, you’ll earn 3x Ultimate Reward points on the purchase — even on the $300 portion erased by the statement credit.

If you haven’t used your Citi Prestige annual $250 travel credit, holiday flights would be a great time to utilize this credit as well. However, Citi isn’t as generous as Chase when it comes to what purchases qualify for this credit. You’re going to need to book directly with the airline — instead of through an online travel agency like Priceline, Expedia or Orbitz.

Bottom Line

If you haven’t booked Thanksgiving flights yet, you could actually reap some savings by waiting a few more weeks, until late October. However, note that the most convenient flight times and routings are likely to be unavailable or more expensive — and if you’re traveling in a group, it’s definitely better to book in advance when availability isn’t as limited. In any case, make sure you pay for your airfare with a travel rewards cards that will offer you solid protections and rewards for your spending, and if you haven’t taken advantage of an annual travel credit, now’s a great time to do so!

Featured image courtesy of Getty Images.

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