Sure, there are three months left to shop for the holidays. But for those planning to travel, the time to start searching for airfare is now — as in today — according to experts. That applies for Thanksgiving as well.
“It may seem really early to start thinking about your holiday plans,” says Jeanette Casselano, a spokeswoman for AAA. “But if you’re going to be flying, Sept. 25 through the end of October is going to be the best time to start looking and buying those flights, because you’re going to find some of the best options and best deals.”
She said the months-early approach means there’s still a lot of supply, or flight options and seats, available.
To be sure, the prices of flights will remain in flux as Thanksgiving and the winter holidays get closer. And there could even be some last-minute deals for those who wait until a week or two before their departure dates. But, experts say, those travelers will probably need to be willing to go at inconvenient times or under less-than-ideal circumstances.
“If you’re going to wait, be sure to be very, very flexible with both dates and time of day and layovers if you want to get a good deal,” says Hayley Berg, an economist at the airfare prediction app Hopper.
She said Thanksgiving airline prices typically start out high, so those don’t need to be booked quite as far in advance as Christmas flights. But for Christmas, prices tend to start lower and vary more, “so if you can get the flights at the sweet spot, you’re going to pay a lot less,” she said in an email.
The company had some good news for the budget-conscious: Round-trip domestic airfare was expected to be down 3.9 percent for around Thanksgiving and 9.2 percent for Christmas.
Various travel groups and companies have slightly different recommendations for the best time for holiday booking. AAA, for example, recommends that people start shopping now. Hopper suggests booking tickets in October for Thanksgiving and before Oct. 31 for Christmas. Booking site Skyscanner says Sunday is a great time to find deals for Thanksgiving.
Most seem to agree, however, that there’s no real downside to keeping an early eye out.
“Our best piece of advice is to start looking early — and snag a good deal the second you see one,” Tracy Stewart, content editor at airfare deal site Airfarewatchdog, said in an email.
Stewart says consumers should sign up for multiple airfare alerts to get a heads-up when prices drop on specific routes. People hunting for a deal should also check alternative airports, settle for a middle seat, catch an early flight or fly on the holiday dates themselves.
Casselano, of AAA, says that the Monday before Thanksgiving has the lowest average flight price, and that Thanksgiving Day has good deals. For Christmas Day, which falls on a Wednesday this year, it’s best to avoid the weekend before the holiday.
“That Sunday, we’ve found prices to be very expensive,” she says. “If you’re flexible and can travel on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day morning, you’re going to probably find better deals.”