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Flying during the holidays? Better budget for a pricey ticket.

Start tracking those prices now and book soon, experts say

(iStock/Washington Post illustration)
2 min

Expect some sticker shock this holiday season when it comes to flight prices.

According to travel booking app Hopper, prices for flights over Thanksgiving and Christmas are expected to reach their highest point in the past five years.

For Thanksgiving, that means domestic round-trip airfare will be an average of $350, 22 percent higher than 2019. Over Christmas, domestic flights are expected to cost $463 on average, up a whopping 31 percent compared with pre-pandemic prices. For international flights, trips during Thanksgiving are up 25 percent to $795 and up 26 percent to $1,300 at Christmas compared with 2019.

Blame many of the same forces that made summer travel so expensive this year.

When you should book holiday flights

“Basically, the number one driver of why we’re seeing such high prices is there’s pent-up demand from people not traveling over the last few years,” said Andrew Heritage, an economist at Hopper.

Heritage said that jet fuel prices — lower than their peak this summer, but still higher than last year — are also contributing to the cost of airfare. Additionally, airline capacity remains lower than it was before the pandemic, another factor in the price of tickets.

Hotel rooms are also more expensive compared with last year, the company said. Expect to shell out an average of $189 a night for Thanksgiving, compared with $167 in 2021. For Christmas stays, the average rate is $218 a night, up 32 percent over last year.

One brighter spot for travelers: Car rental prices have eased significantly from their highs last year and even this summer. Hopper says the national average for rental cars is $60 a day over Thanksgiving and $53 a day during the Christmas period.

How do you actually get those $49 flights? There’s always a catch to airline sales.

Heritage said rental car companies have “been able to successfully rebuild their fleets, so prices for car rentals are somewhat back in line with what we’ve seen normally.”

To ease the budget blow slightly, Hopper recommends booking tickets to leave the Monday before Thanksgiving or on the holiday itself and return Tuesday or Wednesday of the following week. Heading out on Christmas vacation the Monday or Tuesday before Dec. 25 and returning the Tuesday or Wednesday after the holiday will offer some savings. If it’s possible to return on Jan. 3, Hopper said that could amount to a savings of about 20 percent.

Now is the time to actively track prices, the company said, and book no later than the week of Oct. 10 for both Thanksgiving and Christmas travel.

“We expect popular routes to sell out and people to book early,” Heritage said. He said once people have booked a lot of those flights, “prices will start to surge.”