When to Buy Tickets for Holiday Air Travel
Anyone who’s bought plane tickets for holiday travel knows that airlines often make holiday trips part of their “blackout” dates, meaning frequent flyer miles can’t be used and discounts are unlikely. In fact, it’s not unusual for holiday flights to have surcharges attached. Travelers can’t get around those blackout dates or surcharges but educating yourself about the best time to buy tickets may save you money—and stress.
Generally speaking, booking well in advance affords travelers with a greater number of schedule and flight options, but early purchases come with higher prices. On the other hand, booking at the last minute can mean paying some of the lowest fares for holiday trips but flight options will be limited. Most travelers book 28 to 60 days ahead of the holiday. This year, that’s September 24–October 26 for Thanksgiving trips and October 26–November 27 for Christmas travel.
For Thanksgiving travelers, tickets booked during this popular window will average $543. If you wait until the last minute to make your purchase, 7 to 14 days ahead of time (November 10–17), you’ll see the lowest prices, at an average of $474.
For Christmas, prices are better for travelers who book 61 to 90 days ahead (September 26–October 25). As with Thanksgiving travel, expect the lowest fares on tickets booked 7 to 13 days before the holiday (December 12–18).
In most cases, says AAA’s Julie Hall, “The best option is to find a happy medium.” Booking a couple weeks before your holiday trip may save you a small amount of money, but availability will be extremely limited. Booking well in advance gives you the pick of the litter in terms of flights, but you’ll pay slightly more for that privilege. Hall says that for most travelers, it’s about finding the balance between “optimal availability and moderate fares.”
Regardless of when you book your Thanksgiving or Christmas flights, AAA recommends travelers get to the airport at least two hours before departure—holidays at the airport always mean longer lines. To streamline the process, enroll in a trusted traveler program like TSA PreCheck or Global Entry.
Smart Tip: When booking winter air travel, avoid the last flight of the day, says Doreen Loofburrow of AAA Travel. Blizzards, ice storms, and other wild weather events lead to delays and cancellations, meaning night flights can get pushed to the next day. An earlier flight provides a cushion, ensuring that you actually start your trip on the day you intended.
*All fare averages based on airline tickets purchased by AAA Members for the 2019-2021 November/December holiday travel windows.