The holiday travel season is just slightly more bearable if you know when to book holiday travel.
According to a survey by Bankrate, 8 million U.S. adults made hotel reservations for the November/December holiday season by the end of August, while six million already purchased airline tickets for holiday travel. That's 23% of all holiday hotel guests and 20% of those making a trip to the airport part of their holiday travel itinerary. Overall, approximately 35 million American adults anticipate staying in a hotel during the holidays (or another type of paid lodging, such as a vacation rental or Airbnb) and about 31 million plan to fly, according to the survey. As August comes to a close, 23% of those expected travelers have arranged paid lodging and 20% have their plane reservations.
By the end of September, 48% of holiday fliers will have bought their tickets, while 44% of travelers will have secured a hotel or other paid overnight accommodations. The question that doesn't answer, at all, is when travelers should book their holiday travel. If you're looking for the best deal, it doesn't pay to get too far ahead of the game. However, if you're booking a flight for Christmas, you should jump on that now -- as the best time to book is the first week in October.
Rick Seaney, CEO of travel site FareCompare, notes that Thanksgiving travel prices are already on the rise. However, Patrick Surry at travel pricing site Hopper notes that Thanksgiving prices tend to start high because the airlines know travelers have little flexibility in terms of destinations and dates. By late September, domestic flight prices averaged about $325 round-trip for Thanksgiving compared to $288 last year. That said, Thanksgiving airfare levels out in October and you should be OK as long as you book sometime before the week of Halloween. f you wait until early November, it will cost you about $1 per day. By the last two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, prices rise $10 a day.
Surry notes that the busiest and most expensive day to depart is Wednesday, November 22. You can save $54 by departing on Thanksgiving morning or you can save $48 by departing on Monday, November 20th. The busiest and most expensive day to return is Sunday, November 26, but can save a whopping $161 by returning on Wednesday, November 29th instead. However, even with this narrow window for travel, Thanksgiving still manages to be cheaper than the winter holidays.
"The airlines can charge a big premium for holiday flights because it's the busiest travel period of the year," Surry says. "Flights around the winter holidays can be priced as much as 75% more than non-holiday flights."
The typical domestic roundtrip around the winter holidays is $366, compared to $368 last year. Winter holiday flight prices rise steadily as Christmas approaches, and then spike in the last 10 days. Hopper's data show that the best time to book Christmas flights is about 83 days before departure which is the first week of October.
Don't even think about waiting until November to book a Christmas flight, either. Around Thanksgiving time, holiday airfare will begin rising by $4 per day. In the final two weeks leading up to Christmas, flight prices jump by $7 per day. There aren't really "deals" to be had, as everybody is trying to fly around the same time, but there are less-bad deals. The cheapest days to depart are Saturday, December 16 or Tuesday, December 19. Either of those days will save you $110 compared to traveling on the busiest day, Friday, Dec. 22. The cheapest days to return are Thursday, Jan. 4th, which will save you $97 compared to traveling on New Year's Day. In fact, December 22 through January 2 are all miserably expensive, with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day only providing a slight discount.
Seaney regularly advises flying in on the holidays themselves, noting that an early enough flight will still get you there in time for the festivities, but keeps a few other hints squirreled away for just this time of year. By now, you know to consider connecting flights and airports just a bit removed from your destination's main airport. However, you should also consider looking into hotel and flight packages that won't reduce airfare, but often cut you a break on the room. Also, if you find yourself in a pinch, nothing beats a red-eye flight.
"The cheapest times to fly are generally the times no one wants to fly, such as a dawn flight or at dinner-time or overnight flight," Seaney says. "Compare ticket prices for various times; the savings could make an early flight easy to bear."
More of What's Trending on TheStreet:
- PayPal's Stock Has Blown Away Facebook and Google This Year for One Big Reason
- Microsoft's New Xbox One X Shows It's Done Trying to Please Everyone
- How to Invest Like Billionaire Warren Buffett
- A 401(k) Loan Is a Terrible Idea Until It Isn't
Editors' pick: Originally published Oct. 4.