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Affordable Holiday Travel: Best Time to Book a Flight

The holidays are some of the most expensive times to book airfare—usually the most expensive, depending on the destination—and when to book a flight during the holidays has always been a hot topic. Moreover, airline prices can fluctuate by the hour, and there are numerous factors to take into account when booking; making it even more difficult to know when find the best deal.

Holidays included, studies conducted by The Huffington Post have shown that domestic airline tickets are at their lowest 54 days before departure. International flights are even worse: flights to Europe, Asia, Mexico, The Caribbean and Latin America are at their lowest between 80-151 days before takeoff.

Another set of studies cited by Kayak’s 2014 travel guide shows that domestic holiday airfare is at its most affordable between three and seven weeks in advance. According to CheapAir.com, the most affordable time to book domestic airfare is approximately 27 and 114 days before takeoff. CheapAir states that the average savings could amount to huge savings along the lines of $201 per flight.

It’s highly recommended that passengers check flight prices as soon as they know they’re flying for the holidays, and check them often. Additionally, it’s good to know a deal when you see it: study the average ticket amounts for your destination and compare it to the price of your flight over time. This type of approach is vital to finding the best deals, no matter when or where you’re traveling.

On one travel agent’s personal blog, she noted that booking flights early is valuable because the cheapest classes typically sell out first.

Booking flights as soon as possible is a recommendation that has been upheld by travel agents over the years. In addition, one agent noted that the daily price fluctuations could indicate that tickets were placed on hold and then released. As takeoff approaches, though, fares can drop dramatically in this type of situation, as unused seats cost airlines real money. Betting on an excess of seats in order to save on ticket prices is dangerous, though—especially for a holiday flight—airlines have access to historic seating data for specific flights and can raise prices dramatically for hot flights at the last minute.

Federal law states that flights booked seven or more days before takeoff can be cancelled without a penalty within 24 hours. For this reason, booking a flight that seems like a good deal is a good idea: you have a day to cancel it if you find a better deal. There are services to keep passengers track price fluctuations, too; Yapta.com will notify you if a refund is possible and will share information about cheaper flights.

Travelers are advised to always check the fees associated with canceling flights after the 24-hour grace period. Domestic flights booked with United, Delta, and American charge as much as $200 for cancelled flights, and other carriers, such as Allegiant Air, charge up to $75. Southwest Airlines is one of the only carriers that does not charge for cancellations or changes, and Alaska Airlines will give a full refund if the cancellation or flight change is made at least 60 days in advance.

With most airlines, it pays to book holiday airfare well in advance. If the ticket drops enough to counter the cost of rebooking, travelers can still save money.