If you’ve been putting off booking your vacation travel, don’t wait any longer. Travel demand has skyrocketed this summer. And, this holiday season isn’t showing many signs of slowing down. Unfortunately for customers, growing demand also means soaring travel costs.
Airfare, hotel lodging, car rental and more are at their highest point in years. At the end of the day, if you’re planning to travel for Thanksgiving and the December holidays, you want to act early. But before making any decisions, make sure you know the best tips and tricks so you don’t get stuck spending a fortune during the holidays.
Whether you’re planning a trip to the state, across the pond to Europe, or across the country, there are a few tips to ensure a more affordable flight. We’ve put together a list of the five best ways to find cheap holiday flights – here’s what you need to know.
Traditionally, flights are most expensive on the days when everyone wants to travel. While there is no best day to book a flight, there are always days that are better for travel than others. During most of the year, traveling earlier in the week or a few days of the week tends to be cheaper than traveling on Fridays or weekends.
Especially around the holidays, you’ll want to avoid peak travel periods. For Thanksgiving, that means avoiding Sundays around the Thursday holiday. Even better, you might save a lot if you can travel on Thanksgiving Day. For Christmas, try flying before Christmas Eve or December. 22 Save. On your return flight, try to leave before New Years to get a cheaper flight.
Finally, if you have the flexibility to work remotely, consider traveling a few days before your holiday festivities.
For example, if you plan to fly from New York to Dallas over Thanksgiving, a round-trip flight departing the Tuesday before the holiday and returning the following Sunday will cost you $548 with United Airlines.
However, if you’re able to work remotely — or have extra time to fly — and can travel from the Sunday before Thanksgiving to the following Tuesday, you can fly nonstop with United for $248 — more than Peak day trips are $300 off.
Of course, not everyone has the flexibility to travel on the cheapest days. There are many business travelers who can only leave the office during “traditional” holiday travel. But if you’re someone who is able to work remotely, it’s definitely worth considering extending or shortening your trip to save hundreds of dollars on flights.
Many major metropolitan areas have multiple airports for travelers to choose from. New York has LaGuardia (LGA), JFK (JFK) and Newark (EWR) airports; Chicago has O’Hare (ORD) and Midway (MDW); Houston has George Bush Intercontinental (IAH) and Hobby (HOU) ); and the list goes on and on.
When you search for flights, check your destination for secondary airports serving the region. Many times it may be cheaper to fly to those smaller airports rather than the major airports serving a particular area.
For example, if you want to travel from the Boston area to Orlando on Thanksgiving Prime Travel Day, if you fly with JetBlue from Boston Logan International Airport (BOS), the round-trip fee will be $463.
Alternatively, you can fly Frontier and Breeze on the same date from nearby Hartford (BDL) for a more reasonable $344 round-trip, but note that you must book your tickets separately and Breeze’s return has a short stop in Charleston ( CHS).
If you’re not dead set on a particular destination on your vacation trip, but just know you want to leave, you should use Google Flights’ Explore feature. The free service allows you to see which destination has the cheapest airfare.
The Explore feature allows you to search for specific dates or flexible dates within a given month. You can choose your departure city and let Google do the work for you. From there, you just click on the destination that appeals to you and fits your budget, and then go ahead and book your flight.
Google Flights also lets you set up fare alerts, which send you emails when the cost of a given ticket increases or decreases. This is especially useful if you’re setting up alerts months in advance or planning to travel, so you can make deals when it comes up.
Alternatively, there are services that can help you find cheap flights. Thrifty Traveler Premium and Scott’s Cheap Flights are two of our favorite membership-based tools to help you identify cheap deals. With each service, you can subscribe to have flight deals delivered to your inbox every day.
In recent years, many budget airlines have made strides in improving operations and customer experience. However, while they may offer cheap fares, they are notorious for charging high fees for any extras you might want (like checked luggage, seat selection, carry-on luggage, and in some cases even water).
While “traditional” airlines like American, Delta, and United have emulated the low-cost experience of basic economy fares, you can avoid them by simply buying a “regular” economy ticket. However, if you choose to fly on a low-cost airline, you run the risk of greater delays or even getting stuck if weather or other factors hinder your flight.
Traditional airlines typically have larger fleets and more frequent flights, which means you still have a better chance of reaching your final destination if something goes wrong on the day of your trip.
Use your points and miles
If you don’t have much luck finding a flight that fits your budget, you can spend any points or miles you earn with your Flight or Travel Rewards credit card.
All major U.S. airlines have their own loyalty programs. For example, if you have flown with American, Delta, United, Southwest or JetBlue and add your frequent flyer number to your booking, you will earn points and miles in exchange for your business.
And, if you’ve accumulated enough points and miles in an account that’s been dormant throughout the pandemic, vacations may be the best time to use them.
For example, you can use your United MileagePlus miles on a Thanksgiving flight from San Francisco to New York. A round-trip nonstop flight around Thanksgiving will cost you 51,500 miles and $11.20 in taxes instead of $538 for the same flight.
While you may not always get the most value from your miles, if you’re interested in saving money, it’s a no-brainer.
Also keep in mind that if you don’t currently have enough United miles in your account, you can also transfer them from Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program. If you have a Chase Sapphire card and earn Ultimate Rewards, those points are instantly transferable to United Airlines at a 1-to-1 ratio.
In general, it’s easier to use points and miles to book flights near popular travel times when you book in advance, but as the example above shows, if you have some flexibility and save points and miles, you can even find good deals offers at this stage of the game.
The holiday season is here, and millions of Americans are leaving to celebrate. If you haven’t settled on your travel plans, now is the time to do so. While vacations are often an expensive time to travel, affordable airfare can still be found this year.
Looking for a travel credit card?Find out which cards CNN Underscored has chosen as ours The Best Travel Credit Cards for 2022.