One sure way to keep the happy in the holidays is to get deals on your holiday travel expenses. Airfare is by far the most expensive item in our holiday budget. Traveling over the holidays can be as much as 30% higher than other times during the year.
We have many resources that help us compare prices on a variety of airlines. Sites like Expedia do the research for you and pull the deals together. Airlines offer their own holiday deals as well. Here are some other ways to save money to help ensure you're the one on the flight that got the best deal.
Although we are just packing away our summer clothes and Halloween is still a month away, now is the time to buy your tickets. Not only will you get the lowest price, but you will find a better selection of flights and seats. It's important to keep in mind that it's not just when you purchase your travel that will save you money, but the dates you travel that will determine your fare.
CheapAir.com pulled together data to help travelers get the biggest bang for their travel buck. As an added perk, they offer a Price Drop Payback if you book a flight through their site and it goes down in fare.
Let's start with the first big holiday travel day: Thanksgiving, touted as the busiest time of the year to travel for Americans. According to CheapAir.com September is the time to buy your Thanksgiving airfare. You will pay about $37 more per ticket if you buy in October and nearly $107 more if you wait until November.
Monday, Nov. 19 is the best day to fly for outbound fares. On average, you can save $40 over flying the day before Thanksgiving. If you don't have too far to travel or if you are traveling from the East Coast to the West Coast, traveling on Thanksgiving Day can save you money. Catch an early flight out and you can still be there in time to carve the turkey.
Most people enjoy the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend and travel back on Sunday. Historically, not only is that the busiest day but it can also be the most expensive. If you can take your return flight on Monday you can save an average of $100 per ticket. And if you can extend your holiday weekend and travel back on Tuesday, you can save an average of $209 per ticket. That is a considerable savings especially if you are purchasing several tickets.
Now onto the next busiest and most expensive time to travel: Christmas to New Year's. Booking in September will save you the most money but if you need to wait until October, it will only cost you about 5 bucks more per ticket. Waiting to make your purchase in November will cost you about $54 more. If you wait until December, expect to pay about $118 more per ticket.
CheapAir.com says the best deals for Christmas travel are departing on Dec. 18 and returning on Dec. 28. The Saturday before Christmas is a popular travel day. If you opt to travel on Christmas Eve instead, you can save an average of $76. And if you don't have big plans for New Year's Eve, this is one of the least expensive holiday travel days.
In general, booking your travel on a Tuesday around 4 p.m. Eastern can help you find the best fares. Most airlines post their deals on Tuesdays and then adjust them to be more in line with the competition. Since the airports will be crowded over the holidays and the weather can delay flights, opt for the earliest flight out. Usually, you aren't waiting for your plane to arrive at the airport, and earlier delays for that day won't push your flight time. Comparing airports to fly out of and into can also save you money. I live near three airports and there is a difference in price depending on which airport I fly out of. It's worth checking if it's convenient.
Last, since you are booking in advance and if you are concerned you may need to cancel, there are a few things you can do to protect your investment. There is travel insurance, but I strongly suggest reading all of the fine print. In many cases, when people cancel due to illness, the carrier will not provide coverage if the illness is due to a preexisting condition. Some airlines will offer you a travel credit so consider that if you are concerned about booking in advance. If you are lucky enough to book with points, confirm that your airline will put the points back into your account should you have to cancel at the last minute.
And, if you can, take into consideration the airlines' cancellation and change fees, along with luggage fees.
This story originally appeared in Retirement Daily, TheStreet's new premium subscription publication for people who are saving and investing for, or living in retirement. Learn about retirement planning, lifestyle, healthcare, Social Security and more with a free trial subscription. Find out more here.
About the author: Jeanette Pavini is a two-time Emmy Award winning consumer reporter and author of more than 10,000 money-saving stories. She is a columnist for TheStreet's Retirement Daily, and a contributor for various news outlets including The Today Show and Hallmark Channel's Home & Family. Since 2008, Jeanette has been the national spokesperson for Coupons.com. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal Weekend and USA Today. She was the chief consumer reporter for CBS 5 News in San Francisco where her money-saving segments became the backbone to her 30-minute consumer show.