Summer isn’t over yet, but believe it or not, it is time to start looking for holiday fares. The bad news is that we are still going to pay more for holiday fares than fall fares, but the good news...
is that we will pay less than peak July fares. Overall, fares will be cheaper than they were during the last holiday season.
Because Christmas and New Year’s fall on Tuesdays this year, demand will be spread out and that will help keep fares lower. We won’t have the same demand as when the holidays fall on the weekend. Some schools start back on January 2, but some don’t start back until January 7, like most of the schools in the Dallas area. We are expecting fares to be high on January 6 and 7, so you may want to leave late in December and return by January 5, or even earlier, if it gives you a lower fare.
The cheapest dates we’ve been seeing for holiday flights are for departure before December 19, and if you are staying seven nights, departures on December 24 and 25 can also be good dates. January 1 may be a busy travel day with higher fares because many people start back to work and school on January 2. There are some dates to avoid because they are more popular.
For Thanksgiving travel, you’ll want to avoid travel on November 16, 17, 21, 24 and especially November 23 and 26. During Christmas, the dates to avoid are December 20, 22, 26 and 28. Remember to stay away from weekends, or you will pay more, and avoid Sunday, November 25, the busiest travel day of the year. That Monday the 26th, will also be a very busy and expensive day.
Since Christmas and New Year’s are midweek, you should have enough flexibility to take off and return midweek. Many fares do not require a Saturday night stay, so you could return the Friday or Saturday after Thanksgiving to get a lower fare.
We looked at some sample fares from Dallas and found fares of $359 to Los Angeles, for travel December 21-27 and $327 to Fort Lauderdale, for travel December 26 through January 2.
Another way to save on fares is to consider flying on a 1-stop flight. Depending on the destination, you could save an average of $60-$80 over nonstop flights. One thing to keep in mind is that winter weather can cause delays or cancellations when you are connecting, so you may want to avoid some airports that have weather related issues.
Thanksgiving can be a great time to go to Europe because it’s a directional holiday. Unlike Christmas and New Year’s, you don’t have Europeans competing for seats over the Thanksgiving holiday. If you want to travel to Europe, the cheapest days to fly to and from London are Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and for the rest of Europe, it’s Monday through Thursday.
Destinations to avoid during the holidays are Hawaii, the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America, where flights can cost double what you would pay for fall fares. If you can depart at the end of December and return after the holidays, you could save a considerable amount to these destinations.
In June and July, fares going east and west from Dallas could cost you close to $400 roundtrip, but in the fall and in January and February, those same fares are $200 roundtrip. For travel during the holidays, you’ll pay about $100 more than the fall fares, so around $300 roundtrip to many destinations, which is not bad.
Destinations where we have been seeing very reasonable fares from Dallas include Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Denver, Fort Lauderdale and Miami and that includes holiday travel.
We have seen fares drop in cities that are served by Spirit Airlines, so you may want to take a look at their route map to look for cheap destination options. You don’t have to fly on Spirit, since other airlines are offering similar fares, but it can give you an idea about what destinations will cost less. While Spirit may offer the lowest airfare, just remember that Spirit does charge for seat assignments and carry-on bags and others don’t, so you’ll want to take those fees into account when comparing fares.
We have found that some nearby cities are much cheaper than others, so make sure you check fares to nearby cities, even during the fall. For example, fares from Dallas to Baltimore/Washington Airport are $100-$150 cheaper than those into Washington Reagan or Dulles and Chicago is $100-$150 cheaper than Milwaukee.
If you are flying in or out of a small regional airport, you could save hundreds of dollars by using an alternate airport. For example, when we checked fares for a seven-night Christmas trip, fares from Dallas to Grand Rapids were close to $500, but flights into Detroit (a 2 ½ hour drive) were $100 less and flights into Chicago ( a 3 ½ hour drive) were $200 less. If you are going to be renting a car anyway, you won’t mind the drive when you consider the potential savings, especially if you are traveling with the family.
If you don’t have school aged kids, you should consider flying before, between or after the holidays when you can pay half of what you would pay for holiday fares. Sample roundtrip fares for pre-holiday travel this fall from Dallas include $140 to Denver, $200 to Chicago, $220 to Boston and $250 to Los Angeles. These fares include taxes and fees.
If you can fly after Thanksgiving from around November 28 through December 12 or January 7 or 8 through mid-February and maybe even late February, you should sit back and wait for those fares to drop. I expect to see Southwest launch a blowout sale for that time period sometime between the second and fourth week of October.
We could see one-way fares on short-haul flights up to 500 miles as low as $40 before taxes and fees. These could be some wild and crazy fares and one of the best travel times of the year. I think the best deals will be for flights within 1,250 miles of your destination.
If you are taking a Thanksgiving trip, and you will return November 28, or later, this sale should cover that time period, so you may want to wait to buy your one-way return ticket. You may pay a higher outbound fare, but you will be able to buy a cheaper return fare than what is offered today.
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