The Thanksgiving and winter holidays are nearing, and the race to book reasonably priced airfare has already begun. Not all hope is lost, however -- there are still plenty of great fares to go around if you're strategic about finding them. Use some of these tips to ease the booking process and save yourself some money on holiday travel:
Be flexible about your travel dates
A little flexibility can go a long way when booking travel around the holidays. Not surprisingly, the busiest and most expensive days tend to be the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and usually the Saturday or Sunday after. Similarly, Christmas travel is priciest the weekend before the holiday through Christmas Eve, so it's best to avoid these days as much as possible. Instead, try looking for flights departing as much as a week in advance and/or ones returning during the week after the holiday.
For those on tighter schedules, an early-morning flight on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day is often a great way to save both time and money. You might be cutting it close, but pick the right flights and you can find yourself making it to the dining table with plenty of time, and even a couple bucks, to spare.
Tips for 2013
This year, the best travel dates for cheap Thanksgiving flights are Tuesday, Nov. 19; Wednesday, Nov. 20; Thursday, Nov. 21; Monday, Nov. 25; Thursday, Nov. 28 (Thanksgiving); Friday, Nov. 29; Wednesday Dec. 4; and Thursday Dec. 5.
For Christmas and New Year’s, the best options are Tuesday, Dec. 17; Wednesday, Dec. 25 (Christmas); Tuesday, Jan. 7; Wednesday, Jan. 8; Thursday, Jan. 9; and Saturday, Jan. 11.
For further insight, visit Travelzoo's SuperSearch for a full calendar of the best days to fly.
Research your options
Oftentimes the best fares are unadvertised, so searching websites on your own is the safest bet when it comes to finding the cheapest flights. However, don't limit your search to a single website -- try both OTA sites (Orbitz, Expedia, etc.) in addition to airline sites (United, American, etc.) to improve your odds. It also helps to be in the loop -- following deal providers like Travelzoo on Twitter and Facebook could help you get immediate insight when fares drop.
Consider a nearby airport
With major airports handling the bulk of travelers, you can often find savings by looking for flights in to or out of smaller, regional airports that might be under the average traveler's radar. Be sure to check all convenient options to increase your luck at finding the best fare, and perhaps even avoiding some of the crowds.
Take the road less traveled
With domestic fares rising as travelers plan to visit friends and family, airfare to popular destinations abroad can often be relatively affordable in comparison. If you’re looking to get the best bang for your buck, you might want to consider traveling somewhere new this year. While everyone else is taking part in festivities at home, you can find yourself on a Caribbean vacation, a cheap trip to Europe, or a jaunt to South America, among other places -- now that’s something to be thankful for.
Not surprisingly, prices typically continue to rise until the day of travel, so your best bet is to book a good fare as soon as you come across one. While it may be tempting to hold off in hopes of a last-minute sale, doing so puts you at high risk of paying a much higher price. Better safe than sorry!
Whether looking to celebrate with family and friends or just hoping to take advantage of the days off from work, being flexible, doing a little research, and booking quickly will allow you find the best deals for traveling this Thanksgiving and winter holiday season.