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These Are the Best Times to Book Your Holiday Travels

Sept. 02, 2019
7 min read
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No, you're not imagining it. Pumpkin spice lattes and decorative gourds return earlier every year. And with that, people inevitably begin asking the age-old question: "When should I be booking my holiday travel?"

We know it seems like Thanksgiving and Christmas couldn't be farther away, but the holiday season will be here before you can say "gobble gobble." Thankfully, online travel agencies and search engines are already digging into historical data to help travelers figure out the best times to book holiday flights and hotels stays — because we all know you'd rather be spending money on Christmas gifts than overpriced flights.

A good rule of thumb is that traveling on the holiday itself (such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day) will usually get you the cheapest rate — last week, Expedia announced that these fares can often be at least $100 than those for the Saturday prior to the holiday. At the bare minimum, you'll want to book your flights at least two weeks out. If you can, you should also avoid booking your trip on the Saturday before the holiday, since that's typically the most expensive day to fly.

Of course, travelers should also keep an eye out for the big sale dates, such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, during which you could find serious flight deals. (Follow The Points Guy on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribe to text message alerts from our deals feed, @tpg_alerts, so you never miss one.)

Related: The 7 Best Starter Credit Cards

The Best Times to Book Thanksgiving Travel

If you want to be proactive about your Thanksgiving flights, you might want to wait it out a bit. Data collected by Expedia suggests that the cheapest time to buy tickets is between Oct. 29 and Nov. 13. A recent study by flight search engine Hipmunk corroborates these findings, saying, "Thanksgiving flight prices peak mid-October and then dip down again [toward] Halloween and the beginning of November." But Hipmunk's data also points to Sept. 2 as a low point for flights around Thanksgiving.

Last-minute bookers (think: buying flights the week before the holiday) paid more than 20% above the average for airfare prices, Expedia reported. So, if you have a habit of waiting until the final possible moment, you might want to tell your folks you're planning a Thanksgiving staycation instead.

The cheapest day to fly will almost certainly be Thanksgiving Day (great for travelers who are ditching the turkey dinner to vacation instead), but if that doesn't work for your schedule, the second-cheapest dates will likely be the Monday or Tuesday of Thanksgiving week. Not at all surprising, you'll want to avoid flying the Wednesday before if possible.

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The Best Times to Book Christmas Travel

We know you're counting down the days until Christmas, too, but according to Expedia, early bird travelers who booked three months or more in advance paid around 15% more than those who waited. Think about buying your Christmas flights right after Thanksgiving instead. Aim to fly on Christmas Eve or Dec. 23, but whatever you do, avoid flying home for the holidays on Dec. 21.

Hipmunk says it's possible to score deals on holiday flights as early as the first week of September, though Expedia and Hipmunk are aligned on one thing: there's a sweet spot around two weeks before the holiday when airfare dips back down.

The key here is to be as flexible as possible, but definitely plan ahead and don't wait until the last minute. When we spoke with Hopper's chief data scientist, Patrick Surry, last year, he said, "Flight prices for Christmas tend to rise more steadily than for Thanksgiving. That means you can procrastinate longer with Thanksgiving flights, but you should have your Christmas plans settled much earlier if you want to get the best deal."

Don't underestimate airfare alerts, either; we know you have more important things to do than constantly refresh a page looking for cheap flights. No matter how far in advance you're booking your holiday flights, you're leaving money and valuable perks on the table if you don't buy them with a credit card that earns you bonus points on airfare, or one that has valuable travel protections. We recommend the The Platinum Card® from American Express (5x on airfare booked directly through the airline or through Amex Travel); the Chase Sapphire Reserve (3x on all purchases that code as travel, and arguably the best travel protections), or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (for 2x points on travel).

Related: The Best Hotel Credit Cards

The Best Times to Book Your Hotels for the Holidays

Hotels are a different story, though. Expedia found that the cheapest time to book hotels for both Thanksgiving and Christmas is only six days out from travel, or less. If you go this route, you should be able to save around 15% for Thanksgiving travel and 20% for Christmas stays. Of course, scoring a good deal doesn't mean you'll get the room (or even the hotel) you want, especially in major tourist destinations such as New York City and Orlando, where hotels tend to get booked up. If you'd rather save yourself a potential headache, aim to book around two weeks out to save yourself a modest 5%. Be sure to opt for a hotel that offers flexible and free cancellations, too — that way you have some wiggle room in case your plans change.

If you're planning on redeeming points for an award stay, now is definitely the time to get those plans ironed out. Plenty of in-demand resorts are already booked to capacity, but it's hardly too late to score a free stay on points during the holidays. The SAii Lagoon Maldives, Curio Collection by Hilton, for example, is taking reservations for Sept. 1, 2019 and beyond — including Christmas week, where there's still wide-open availability for 85,000 Hilton Honors points per night.

If you're looking for something a bit closer to home, you can spend either Thanksgiving or Christmas at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa in Hawaii (from 33,000 and 25,000 World Of Hyatt points per night, respectively); the Kimpton Seafire Resort and Spa (from 60,000 IHG Rewards Club points per night); or The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch in Avon, Colorado. This Category 8 Marriott property is available from 85,000 points per night over both Thanksgiving and Christmas, and if you stay five nights on points, you'll only pay for four. These are just a handful of hotels still accepting award nights during the holidays, but you definitely don't want to wait until the last-minute.

You can also use either the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred Card for 3x or 2x on travel purchases, respectively.

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Featured image by (Photo by Nicholas Ellis / The Points Guy)
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.