If you’ve been putting off booking your holiday travel, don’t wait any longer. This summer, travel demand skyrocketed. And, it’s not showing many signs of slowing down this holiday season. Unfortunately for customers, rising demand also means booming costs to travel.
Airfare, hotel stays, car rental costs and more are at some of the highest points they’ve been in years. Ultimately, you want to act sooner rather than later if you’re planning to travel for Thanksgiving and the December holidays. But before making any decisions, make sure you know the best tips and tricks so you’re not stuck paying a small fortune to fly around the holiday season.
Whether you’re planning to travel to the state over, across the pond to Europe or across the country, there are tips to secure more affordable flights. We’ve put together a list of the five best methods for finding cheap holiday flights — here’s what you need to know.
Consider traveling on ‘off days’
Traditionally, flights are most expensive on the days that everyone wants to travel. While there is no best day to book your flights, there are better days to travel than others. During most of the year, traveling on days earlier in the week or in the middle of the week tends to be cheaper than traveling on Fridays or weekend days.
Around the holidays especially, you’ll want to avoid peak travel dates. For Thanksgiving, that means avoiding the Sunday before and after the Thursday holiday. Better yet, if you can travel on Thanksgiving day itself, you may save a lot. For Christmas, try flying on Christmas Eve or before Dec. 22 to save. On your return flight, try to leave before the New Year in order to get cheaper flights.
Ultimately, if you’ve got the flexibility to work remotely, consider traveling a couple of days before your holiday festivities begin.
For example, if you’re looking to travel from New York to Dallas for Thanksgiving, a round-trip flight that departs on the Tuesday before the holiday and returns on the Sunday following will cost you $548 with United Airlines.
However, if you’re able to work remotely — or have extra time to take off — and could travel from the Sunday before Thanksgiving to the Tuesday following, you could snag nonstop flights with United for just $248 — $300 less than the peak days itinerary.
Of course, not everyone will have the flexibility that allows them to travel on the cheapest days. There are plenty of business travelers who can only be away from the office during the “traditional” holiday travel dates. But, if you’re someone who’s able to work remotely, it’s certainly worth considering extending — or shortening — your trip to potentially save several hundred dollars on flights.
Look at nearby airports
Many major metropolitan areas have multiple airports for flyers to choose from. New York has LaGuardia (LGA), Kennedy (JFK) and Newark (EWR) airports; Chicago has O’Hare (ORD) and Midway (MDW); Houston has George Bush-Intercontinental (IAH) and Hobby (HOU); and the list goes on.
When you’re searching for flights, check to see whether your destination has a secondary airport that serves the area. Many times, it can be cheaper to fly to those smaller airports instead of the principal airport serving a given region.
For example, if you wanted to travel from the Boston area to Orlando on prime Thanksgiving travel days, you could do so for $463 round trip if you were to fly from Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) with JetBlue Airways.
Or you could fly from nearby Hartford (BDL) for a more reasonable $344 round trip on the same dates with Frontier and Breeze, noting, however, that you’ll have to book separate tickets and the return with Breeze has a short stop in Charleston (CHS).
Flexible plans? Use Google Flights to find the cheapest options
If you’re not dead set on one particular destination for your holiday travel but just know that you want to get away, you should use Google Flights’ Explore function. The free service allows you to see which destination has the cheapest airfare.
The Explore function allows you to search with specific dates or with flexible dates within a given month. You can choose your origin city and let Google do the work for you. From there, you can simply click the destination that appeals to you and fits in your budget and proceed to book your flights.
Google Flights also allows you to set fare alerts, and it will email you if and when the cost of a given ticket increases or decreases. This is especially helpful if you set alerts months in advance of when you intend to travel so you can jump on a good deal if it comes around.
Alternatively, there are services out there that help you to find cheap flights. Thrifty Traveler Premium and Scott’s Cheap Flights are two of our favorite membership-based tools that help you to pinpoint cheap deals. With each of the services, you can subscribe to get flight deals sent to your inbox every day.
Avoid the low-cost carriers — if you can
Many budget airlines have made strides in recent years to improve both their operations and customer experience. However, while they may offer cheap fares, they are notorious for charging significant fees for any extras you may want like checked luggage, seat selection, carry-on bags and, in some cases, even water.
And while “legacy” carriers like American, Delta and United have emulated the low-cost experience with basic economy fares, you can avoid them simply by purchasing a “normal” economy ticket. But if you choose to fly a low-cost carrier, you run a greater risk of getting delayed or even stuck if weather or other factors hinder your flights.
Legacy carriers typically have larger fleets and greater flight frequencies, meaning you have a better chance of still getting to your final destination should something go wrong on the day of travel.
Put your points and miles to use
If you’re not having much luck finding flights that fit in your budget, you can turn to any points or miles you have from flying or from spending on a travel rewards credit card.
All of the major US airlines have their own loyalty programs. If you’ve taken a flight with American, Delta, United, Southwest or JetBlue, for example, in the past and added your frequent flyer number to the reservation, you will have been rewarded with points and miles in return for your business.
And if you’ve gotten enough points and miles saved up in your accounts that have been resting dormant throughout the pandemic, the holidays may be the best time to put them to use.
For example, you could put your United Airlines MileagePlus miles to use on a flight from San Francisco to New York this Thanksgiving. A round-trip nonstop flight around Thanksgiving will cost you 51,500 miles and just $11.20 in taxes and fees rather than $538 for the same flights.
While you may not always be getting the best value from your miles, if you’re interested in saving money, it’s a no-brainer.
Keep in mind, too, that if you don’t have enough United miles in your account right now, you can also transfer them in from Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program. If you have a Chase Sapphire card and earn Ultimate Rewards, those points transfer at a 1-to-1 rate to United Airlines instantly.
In general, using points and miles to book flights around popular travel times is easier when you’re booking far in advance, but as the above example shows, if you have some flexibility and points and miles saved up, you can find good deals even at this stage of the game.
The holiday travel season is here, and millions of Americans are getting away to celebrate. If you haven’t nailed down your travel plans yet, now’s the time to do so. While the holiday season is typically an expensive time to travel, it’s still possible to find affordable airfare for this year.
Looking for a new travel credit card? Check out CNN Underscored’s list of the best credit cards currently available.