Booking for the Holidays: When to Buy Flight Tickets to Get a Good Deal

It’s important to note that within 21 days of departure, flight prices are likely to rise. 14-day and 21-day advance purchase fares are common so it is best to buy before this deadline. If you prefer not to book too early, be sure to book between three and seven weeks before takeoff for a domestic flight and about three months in advance for an international one.

Expedia research from 2019 travel patterns shows that booking four weeks or more before travel is the best bet to save on flights. Still, airline and hotel companies have made it safer to book even earlier than that with price guarantees and fewer change fees.

What is the best website to book a holiday?

Travel websites are a dime a dozen, but choosing the right one to make the traveling experience easier is paramount. What is the most popular booking site? While many advertise great deals, consider that when booking with an online travel agency (OTA) like Expedia, Booking.com, or Orbitz, customer service issues are always routed through them.

Airlines or hotels won’t be able to help with travel changes or ticket issues as these are issued by the OTA. This can be frustrating in the midst of a last-minute delay or change of plans since you’ll have to navigate the 1-800 customer service line of that website. Also, OTA bookings mean that you typically won’t be able to take advantage of any hotel elite status travel perks like room upgrades or free breakfast since these require booking directly with the hotel brand. Luckily, most flights booked through an OTA (where you know the airline in advance) are eligible for earning miles or elite status benefits.

Ideally, you should book travel directly with the airline or hotel itself. This way, you can also take advantage of loyalty promotions or elite status benefits, and there are price match guarantees from most hotel websites to make sure you have the lowest rates.

If your travel plans are more ambitious, a vetted travel specialist can help. There are also many websites that can provide insight, like Safari Pros for African safari advice and SecretFlying to find the occasional mistake or promotional fare.

Airlines also run their own travel package sites like Delta Vacations or American Airlines’ AA Vacations that combine flights with hotels or rental cars to reduce the overall cost. United Cruises sells cruise vacations and awards MileagePlus miles for every trip you book.

What holiday travel tips should you consider?

Avoid the busiest travel days to save money. Expedia estimates that you can save about five percent by booking on Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday (instead of Wednesday) before Thanksgiving. The same research shows a 15 percent savings during the first half of the week before Christmas rather than Christmas Eve and the day before. For some destinations like Las Vegas or Cancun, the savings can be even greater.

With long security lines, allow extra time at the airport and apply for expedited security programs like TSA PreCheck or Clear. Business travelers know that checking bags is asking for trouble, especially on flights with short connecting times. Pack light or consider a service like Luggage Forward or LugLess that ships bags ahead of time to your destination. Even better, consider a road trip if you aren’t traveling far.

Review your stash of gift cards or travel credits to make sure you use them before they expire. Many people have leftover funds from postponed pandemic travel that will expire this year.

Always have a backup plan in case you encounter delays or disruptions during the trip — including being aware of which alternate flights are available. Early morning flights are the least likely to be delayed since the ripple effect of other delays has not cascaded down yet. For when your luggage is lost, always have an extra set of clothes and your medications in your carry-on bag. Review travel insurance from your credit card, so you’re up to date on extra protection options. Many like The Platinum Card from American Express and Chase Sapphire Reserve offer solid backup assistance.

It’s not just about when to book holiday travel, but rather being prepared for those peak travel days so that you can spend less time in a stressful airport and more time enjoying the holidays with those you love.

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