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Ask FamiliesGo!: How To Save On Christmas & Thanksgiving Airfare

Ask FamiliesGo!: How To Save On Christmas & Thanksgiving Airfare

Question: How can I find cheap airfares for my family for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays?

FamiliesGo! Answers: The Holiday-Season Airfare Challenge

In general you save money on airfare by not traveling when everyone else is.

So one of the biggest challenges to traveling with kids is how to travel during those popular school-break windows— Thanksgiving, Christmas week, and even mid-winter break and spring break— without paying a premium for everything, starting with airfare.

I asked family travel bloggers who regularly fly over the holidays to give their best tips for saving on airfare in late November and December.

Here is what they have to say:

Book Your Tickets Early

The most common advice is to book your December tickets in the summer or early fall. Google has recently published data from its flight app that shows the best time to book tickets is 21-to-60 days out.

Anna Belle of Kids Travel Books says, “When I was a travel agent for flights from Orlando, prices for airline tickets would go way up after the Labor Day holiday week. It’s like that holiday happens and it gets people thinking about December.” So if Disney World or Universal Studios are in your holiday plans start tracking and possibly booking flights in August.

Beth Henry of Cloud Surfing Kids breaks it down further: ‪”Last year I tracked the prices for our flight,” she says. “The prices went up in the second week of October and stayed high until last minute, when they dropped significantly a week before the flights.”

She adds, “This year we will go ahead and book in September to get the best fare.

even during the holidays some travel days are busier than others.

Track Airfares

There are lots of tools out there for tracking flights these days. I use Kayak because it has more and better filters than any other travel site I know. You can choose to only see flights that allow free carry-ons and/or checked luggage, as well as alternate airports, total flight time, maximum layover time and more.

Google Flights is also a good tool because it allows you to easily see how fares will change if you shift your travel dates by one or more days.

They both also allow you to track flights in case you want to wait for a week or so to see if there is a price drop. I almost always book directly through the airline or on Expedia because I feel like these are my best chance at decent customer service if I need it.

Avoid Peak Travel Days

Nicole Chiodo DeBickes of Family With Latitude‪ suggests leaving for Christmas vacation before December 15th and/or returning after January 10th.

Most of us don’t have quite that much flexibility, but you can still avoid the worst peak travel days. These will vary a bit from year to year depending on what day of the week the holidays fall on.

It can also vary if you are going to a popular vacation destination or to visit family in non-touristy destination.

The worst peak days are usually December 21stto 24thand January 1stto 3rd, depending on when the holiday falls.

finding affordable air fares for holiday season travel is a challenge

If your kids can miss a little school or aren’t in school yet, booking a few days before and after these peak days could save you at least a little money. And the airports might be less hectic.

Leslie Neeland Harvey‪ of Trips With Tyke says, “Fly on Christmas Day: You find the cheapest fares and planes are empty.”

Consider flying on Christmas evening flights so you can have Christmas morning at home. If you’re OK seeing your family after Christmas, look into flights on the 26thor 27th, especially to non-tourist destinations. And consider returning on New Years Eve, another relatively slow day during that week.

The Tuesday and Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving and the Sunday after are the busiest and most expensive days for that weekend.

I had my easiest flight and emptiest airport ever the year I few to San Francisco on Thanksgiving morning.  I booked an 8:00 AM flight, got to the airport early enough to catch the 7:00 AM, and was in my brother’s house by lunchtime.

Avoid Popular Airports

Your other option for finding lower holiday season airfare is to fly into or out of secondary airports: for example, Oakland instead of San Francisco.

I know a New Yorker who drives to Delaware when she flies to the west coast. The flights are cheaper and she’d rather drive the two hours than deal with New York airports.

smaller airports can be less backed up during a snowy holiday travel season

That might be a bit extreme for many. But, in addition to lower fares, secondary airports can have smaller crowds, which can meet shorter security lines. And fewer flights can mean less chance of a major back-up when something goes wrong and fewer delays on busy days.

It’s always worth weighing those positivies against the inconvenience of an airport that might be out of the way, have fewer alternatives if flights are canceled, and fewer amenities during long layovers. Also consider the additional costs of getting there — a bigger cab fare, gas and tolls, or having to rent a car.

Avoid Popular Destinations

For holiday getaways, think about destinations that will be fun at Christmastime but are in less demand.

For example, Annalyn Belle says, “In the past, there were always ridiculous deals for packages to Amsterdam for trips between December 25 and January 1.”  It’s a worth considering such an alternative to more in-demand European destinations like London or Vienna.

The Trick You Don’t Want To Try

Booking flights with one or two layovers is a way to save money. But in the post-covid travel world that savings might not be worth it, especially on hectic holiday travel days.

Airlines still have not returned to their full pre-Covid schedules and might not. So weather or other delays have more of a ripple effect, especially on peak travel days. Delays could mean missing that second or third flight or getting stuck overnight in the in-between city where you don’t have relatives or a hotel booked.

Direct flights reduce the potential impact of delays and increase the chances your luggage will arrive with you. If you do have to make connections, make your best effort to pack carry-ons so your bags stay with you. If you need to, send presents on ahead so don’t have to fit them in your luggage.

How To Ask FamiliesGo!

Ask FamiliesGo! is where I answer readers’ questions about family travel. I add new questions as our readers pose them, so keep checking back. You can ask your own question by emailing me.

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