How soon is too soon for booking holiday travel? Thanksgiving through New Years is a peak travel time for many families. While you can find last-minute deals, it might be a good idea to book your travel in the summer or fall months. You might find better prices and have more travel options.
The Perfect Time To Book Holiday Travel
There isn’t a specific day, week or month you should book your flights, lodging or rental cars to get the best price offered for your travel dates. But certain times of the year are better than others.
For instance, the latest you should wait to book a flight is 14 days before you go. Plane ticket prices usually increase sharply in these final days. Other airlines charge a close-in booking fee if you book an award flight within two weeks of departure.
Book Flights Before November
For instance, travel booking site Momondo crunches data to help determine the perfect booking day for your travel route. Two examples are booking a flight 55 days in advance between Chicago and Los Angeles. However, you might find the best deals 34 days before departure when flying from Los Angeles to Honolulu.
A Skyscanner article recommends booking your Christmas flights in October for potential savings. If traveling for Thanksgiving, try booking in early September for the best potential prices.
The earliest you should pay cash for a holiday flight is 21 weeks before departure. Surprisingly, booking at least 5 months in advance means you are likely to pay more than waiting until September, October, or even early November to get a ticket.
While no travel booking site price prediction tool is perfect, it’s still a good idea to book when you feel most comfortable. For instance, you may want to book in advance to guarantee you get a certain seat or flight time. If you are planning an expensive or multi-stop trip and decide to wait, are you willing to risk having the ideal flight times disappear to maybe save a few dollars? It’s something to ponder.
Book Award Flights ASAP
It’s a good idea to book your award flights as soon as possible. Most airlines offer a limited number of discount award seats per flight. Once those seats are gone, you have to pay more points based on the current demand and cash value ticket price. Two examples of these higher prices are United Airlines Everyday Awards or American Airlines AAnytime seats.
It’s also a good idea to book first class, business class or partner flights sooner rather than later. One reason is that fewer of these seats are available versus main cabin seats. In regards to partner flights, some airlines release premium cabin award seats 350 days in advance to lock-in the alliance discount.
Book Hotels Up To One Month Before
You can usually get the best hotel rates up to one month before you travel. Hotels are going to sell out sooner during the holidays than during the off-peak season.
If you’re redeeming points for free nights or have a hotel credit card free night certificate, it’s a good idea to book the reward night as soon as possible. This is especially true if you are staying for multiple nights. Hotels only keep a select number of award rooms per night.
Assuming you want to stay at an Airbnb or VRBO property, you should try booking in advance if you have a certain property in mind. Airbnb adjusts the nightly rates based on the number of recent bookings and property views. If waiting until the last minute, see if the Airbnb or VRBO host will accept your lower offer.
Whether you stay at a hotel or rental property, get a flexible cancellation policy. In case a cheaper rate comes along, you can cancel penalty-free and book the lower rate.
Maximize Credit Card Offers
You might also time your holiday bookings around limited-time credit card offers. One option is applying for a new credit card to pay for your holiday bookings and earn the signup bonus.
A second strategy can be earning the bonus offer points. You then use this bonus to book your holiday travel. Keep in mind that award availability can be limited if you wait too long into the fall to earn the bonus or redeem your points.
If it’s too late to transfer your points to your frequent flyer account to book an award flight directly through the airline, you can still book a flight through your credit card travel portal. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred, your points are worth 1.25 cents each which helps you get a booking discount.
Some credit card travel portals also let you pay with a mixture of points and cash. This flexibility is another way you can reduce your out-of-pocket travel costs this holiday season.
Tips for Saving Money on Holiday Travel
You don’t have to book the first flight or hotel quote you see. Waiting several days or weeks means you might save money or at least pay the same amount as booking in July or August.
Setup Price Alerts
Most travel booking sites let you receive price alerts. You can receive notifications when ticket prices increase or decrease. September and October are generally the best months for booking holiday flights. Starting your price monitoring in the summer months helps you establish a base price so you can book if and when ticket prices drop.
Wait for Travel Sales
An airline, hotel, or booking site might offer a flash sale. For the 2018 holiday travel season, Expedia offered between 50% and 90% off Thanksgiving flights from early September through October 22. Christmas flights were on sale from October 26 through December 4.
You might see lower prices as the travel date approaches, although these flights might have less-desirable departure times or layover windows.
Consider Alternate Airports
You might also be able to save money by traveling through an alternate airport. Airlines might discount less-traveled destinations to generate more interest. If the savings are worth the detour, these flights can be a fun way to travel during the holidays.
September and October are the best months overall for booking holiday travel. You might be able to wait longer for price dips if you are paying cash. If paying with air miles, you should consider booking as early as possible to guarantee your seat, especially when the saver award rate is still available.