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How to Save the Most on Holiday Travel: The Best Days to Buy and Fly

Travel on Thanksgiving, avoid flying on January 3, and other tips to help you save money on holiday airfare.
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Snowmen in airplane seats

There really is no place like home for the holidays. The key is just getting there without breaking the bank. Here are tips for booking holiday air travel this year — and saving some money in the process.

For Thanksgiving, You Can Delay and Not Pay

If you're expecting that you'll pay more to fly around Thanksgiving, you're right. The travel savings website Hopper lays it on the line: "Thanksgiving is, as always, an expensive time to fly". On the one hand, prices are about 5% to 10% lower this year than in 2014. But if you fly out of a major city, expect to pay much more — especially at Love Field in Dallas, where a roundtrip ticket hits an astounding $494. That's more than three times the price of a normal fall trip.

But Hopper's research also shows you can afford to wait, as domestic roundtrip prices rise less than 5% up to 10 days before departure. "Overall, Thanksgiving flights show a lot less volatility than Christmas and New Year's flights." As for whether your fellow passengers will show more volatility, that's another story.

A Question of When: Ideal Thanksgiving Flying Days

Hopper's research shows that the most expensive day to fly is Sunday (which is typical for the rest of the year). But it's a good bet you can save a few bucks by opting to fly on Friday or Monday instead. Avoid flying roundtrip starting on Saturday, November 21 (when a "good price" is above $600) or returning on Sunday, November 29 (where good prices average just under $600).

Domestic roundtrip prices rise less than 5% up to 10 days before Thanksgiving flights.

But for folks looking at short flights, one of the best ways to save is to opt for a Thursday departure and arrive just in time to carve the turkey. For roundtrips that begin on Thursday, November 26, the price drops to $450. About the only way you'll save more at this point is to move back in with Mom and Dad, though that's out the window if they charge you rent.

Only So Many Shopping Days 'Til Christmas: How Flights Are Trending

CheapAir's Holiday Cheap Flights Report collects data that's updated daily from 11,000 airfares — and already, stats for Christmas air travel are coming in. Now's the time to buy, as tickets will cost you about $20 extra compared to December, when they'll go up by more than $100.

In terms of good days to nab lower fares, CheapAir advises Tuesday, December 22 through Christmas Day (a Friday), and December 29 through New Year's Day (a Friday). Sky-high fares will run Friday, December 18 and Saturday, December 19, along with three straight Sundays: December 20, 27, and January 3. That last Sunday is "likely the most expensive day to fly back," while Tuesday, January 5 means "two extra days of vacation and possibly a boat load of savings." And any day you can combine a boat load of bucks and a half-empty plane, that's a great day indeed.

Readers, what are your holiday travel plans this year? How do you save money on Thanksgiving and Christmas airfares? Let us know in the comments below.


Contributing Writer

Lou Carlozo is a DealNews contributing writer. He covers personal finance for Reuters Wealth. Prior to that he was the Managing Editor of WalletPop.com, and a veteran columnist at the Chicago Tribune.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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