Book that holiday flight now or pay a lot more

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Warmer weather closer to home may be an even better deal

If you’re thinking about flying somewhere for Thanksgiving or Christmas, now – not August, not September, and definitely not October – is the time to do it and beat others to the punch. Waiting too long could cost you. 

In fact, fares are already starting to shift. When ConsumerAffairs ran some sample routes on Google Flights, we found that fares nearly doubled between the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving from Baltimore to Phoenix. Other routes we looked at were starting to spike in that direction, too.

Going.com travel expert Katy Nastro broke down the one rule that travelers should always remember: Always book during the opposite season. 

“While most of us are still thinking about a last-minute summer getaway, I’m already considering winter holiday travel. Peak seasons mean peak prices, but not if you’re strategic about when you book,” Nastro told ConsumerAffairs.

“I’m already searching for Cancún flights for a New Year's Eve wedding I have, keeping a few price alerts on to track prices. When the price is right for my budget, I’ll hit ‘book’ yet still keep those price alerts on so that if the price drops again for my flight, I can cancel my ticket with the airline, get credit and just rebook at the lower fare, saving overall in the end.”

Revisiting the Goldilocks Windows 

What ConsumerAffairs found out about the “Goldilocks Window” earlier this year still stands. The old wives' tale that the best fares are available at 3 a.m. on Tuesday or 1 p.m. on Wednesday is simply a myth. Airlines may have played those games years ago, but they don’t have time for such foolishness now.

If you're traveling domestically, the Goldilocks Window is one to three months before you fly. It's two to eight months in advance for international flights.

But if you want to travel during a peak time like summer or New Year's, add a few months. For domestic flights, it's more like three to six months and for international flights, it's more like three to 10 months. 

If you’re willing to go overseas, Going.com told ConsumerAffairs that it’s already seen some great deals for travel during this time (all prices round trip): 

  • Chicago to Berlin for $487

  • DC to London for $2,100 in business class

  • Dallas to Auckland, New Zealand, for $981 nonstop

  • San Francisco to Mexico City for $281

Staying close to home can pay off

If warmer weather is a must and you don’t want to fly across the ocean, Hayley Berg, lead economist at Hopper, said: “For international trips, especially those to the Caribbean and Mexico, start monitoring prices six months in advance and expect to book three to four months before your trip dates.”

She shared that Hopper has found some great under $500 Caribbean fares like these that are worth considering if you plan that far out:

  • Cancun, Mexico  ($250 to $368 per round-trip ticket)

  • San Juan, Puerto Rico  ($175 to $343 per round-trip ticket)

  • Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic  ($277 to $413 per round-trip ticket)

  • Montego Bay, Jamaica  ($286 to $465 per round-trip ticket)

  • Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic  ($309 to $480 per round-trip ticket)

If you’re staying home for the holidays, but still want to do a weekend romp somewhere, Berg found several domestic destinations for weekend getaways under $250, including:

  • Orlando, Florida ($84 to $245 per round-trip ticket)

  • Cleveland, Ohio ($86 to $228 per round-trip ticket)

  • Houston, Texas ($119 to $222 per round-trip ticket)

  • Washington D.C.  ($110 to $247 per round-trip ticket)

  • Minneapolis, Minnesota ($102 to $221 per round-trip ticket)

If you land a great fare, it could get even better

“Early planners should also be aware that while locking in a great fare now is a good idea, once you’ve booked it, you should keep your eyes on it,” Nastro said. “Airline schedules are constantly changing these days, so booking early means you’re pretty likely to see something change about your flight—whether that means a little change in departure time or something more dramatic.”

She said that either way, it’s important to check your flight status frequently in the months and weeks leading up to your trip and know your rights if something goes sideways.

“It's not always bad, though; sometimes a schedule change can work in your favor,” she said.

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