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When to book your flights for Thanksgiving and Christmas

An American Airlines passenger jet takes off. A review of flight data found that the best time to book Christmas flights is 80 days before the holiday. (Alan Diaz/AP)

Haven’t figured out your holiday travel plans yet? You better get to it.

There’s a good chance that last week was when flights for Christmas were the cheapest they may ever be this year, according to an analysis by Hopper, a fare-tracking app. A review of flight data from the past three years found that the best time to book Christmas flights is 80 days before the holiday (i.e. last Thursday).

But some deals may pop up as fares fluctuate over the next several weekssays Patrick Surry, chief data scientist for Hopper.

Flights for Christmas travel are generally expected to get more expensive with every day that passes, according to Hopper. The average domestic round-trip flight for Christmas travel is now about $300, and fares are expected to rise more quickly in the 10 days before the holiday.

The window for finding decent fares for Thanksgiving travel is not as fleeting. Prices are expected to be relatively stable this month, averaging about $323 for a round-trip domestic flight. But make sure to book by Halloween. After that, prices are expected to rise every day, with cost increases being especially steep the 10 days before Thanksgiving.

If you have some wiggle room in terms of what days to travel, it can help to know there are some days that traditionally have lower fares. According to Hopper, flights may actually be the cheapest on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

If you can’t fly the day of, then the next best move may be to head out a few days early. You will save by flying out the Monday before Thanksgiving and leaving the Friday after. For Christmas, a good alternative is to fly a few days before the holiday on Dec. 20 and return after New Year’s Day, on Jan. 5.

Of course, actual prices will vary based on where you are going. But you can use online tools to figure out when the trip you’re considering may be most affordable.

Kayak, for example, has a feature that lets people see how prices might change in the three days before and after the date they are considering. Consumers can use the tool to get a sense for when flights might be less expensive. Travelers also can use the website’s fare predictor to get a sense of whether prices are expected to increase, decrease or stay relatively flat over the next week.

The Hopper app also has a calendar that shows when flights are expected to be more affordable. And you can set up alerts through Kayak, Hopper and other websites to be notified when prices drop.

Once you see a good deal, you may want to book it right away to lock in the rate. You should have a day to cancel the flight if something comes up or if you find a better deal because airlines are required by federal law to let you cancel a flight within 24 hours of booking to receive a full refund, or to put a fare on hold for up to 24 hours.

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