Here's the Best Time to Buy Your Holiday Travel Tickets

November 1st 2015

Aron Macarow

It may feel early to start thinking about holiday travel—it was just Halloween, afterall—but according to the airfare experts at Orbitz, we're actually behind. Orbitz reports that we already missed the sweet spot for the cheapest holiday airfare deals. (But don't despair, there are still some tricks available to save.) The travel company's number crunchers say that Thanksgiving fares were predicted to hit their lowest prices on October 6, Christmas tickets were lowest on October 9 and New Years flights were cheapest on October 10. 

Flights usually hit their lowest price around 47 days before takeoff. But that's not a hard and fast rule, especially for peak travel dates around major holidays, which can start to fill up earlier due to high demand. (You don't want to fly out at 6 AM Thanksgiving morning, even through you'll make it in time for dinner. And no one else does either, translating into heavier competition for the after work flights the day before.)  

Airfare is cheapest 47 days before departure.

Orbitz dates are around 80 days out from departure for winter holiday travel, which is in line with predictions from Hopper, an app that tracks flight prices on a daily basis to alert you when flights are cheapest so that users can book the lowest fares. And some research teams were suggesting even earlier booking. Discount airfare purveyor Skyscanner recommended booking as early as August 10 for the best rates on November to January travel, requiring some serious advance planning. 

Hopper predicts that 80 days before departure means cheaper tickets.

Although the magical doorway to the cheapest airfares for the holiday season may have closed, all isn't lost. You can still score some deals, and ATTN: has rounded up five tips to help you make the most of your holiday airfare budget—or to save more money next year. 

1. Know how much you should pay for your holiday flight. 

It's hard to price shop when you don't know what you could be paying in the first place, so do your research. According to Hopper's data science team, the average domestic round-trip ticket price for the holidays this month was around $383. 

The good news is, this is down 3 percent from last year's price at the same time, so even through you missed the cheapest booking window, you'll still probably be paying less than last year. The bad news? Most routes will cost an average of 75 percent more over the winter holidays in 2015 than at any other time of the year, so even a good deal will still be more expensive than a normal ticket. 

2. Know how airline prices tend to behave during the holidays. 

Common sense would dictate that prices steadily increase as the travel date draws nearer, but this isn't always the case with airfare. When traveling for Thanksgiving, prices tend to start high and stay high. But there's good news, too: Hopper predicts that prices will only rise up to 5 percent until about 10 days before departure, when they spike. 

For Christmas travel, prices rise steadily—but there may be another cheap booking window around November 6 and 7.

Also, avoid travel over the weekends after Christmas (December 26-27) and New Year's Day (January 2-3). These are likely the most expensive days to travel during the entire holiday period. 

3. Enlist help. 

Don't go it alone when trying to find the best rates. Sign up for a quality free price alert service, many of which will allow you to setup alerts for multiple destinations, which can help you make intelligent travel decisions. Some like Hopper and Skyscanner even have apps for your phone to help you track and predict prices and book cheap flights on the go. (Airfarewatchdog's alerts recently helped me score $80 round-trip tickets from Los Angeles to Chicago.) 

4. Certain days are better travel days than others. 

Monday or Tuesday before Thanksgiving has historically been a cheaper day for a departure, averaging 15 to 23 percent below the standard rate according to Kayak. And returning home on Thanksgiving day, Friday, or waiting until the following Tuesday will also save you money—about 20 percent on average. 

To save on Christmas travel, try to depart as close to December 25 as possible. And obviously, traveling on any of the holidays themselves will save you considerable money.

5. Don't procrastinate. 

The average American holiday traveler waited until four weeks before they traveled to look for Christmas airfare last year. More demand means higher prices; if you want to save money, don't be one of these people. Need some extra motivation to spur you to action? Hopper's team writes: "For every day closer to Christmas, average round-trip holiday airfare goes up about $1.60." And if you'd booked your Thanksgiving travel last week, you would have saved approximately $30 over what you'll pay for the same route this week. So get booking.

Good luck, and safe travels!