Holiday Travel Tips

October is in full swing and the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays are fast approaching. If you are wondering when the best timeto book your trips and travel, we’ve got your answers here. The short answer is the time is now!

“The best bet for the consumer is to travel as early before the actual holiday or as late as possible afterward, and always leave room for schedule changes,” explained Dean Headley, co-author of Wichita State University’s Airline Quality Rating report. “During the past several years, the holiday travel period has continued to be a challenging time for travelers, and with industrywide seat capacity reduction, it will remain a stressful travel experience [this year].”

Travel search engine Kayak.com analyzed “hundreds of millions” of queries preformed on the site last year and discovered that, on average, the cheapest airfares for holiday travel were found before mid-October. Procrastinators who wait until the end of October or later to book are likely to find a 17 percent increase for Thanksgiving travel, a 51 percent increase for Christmas travel and a 25 percent increase for New Year’s Eve travel.

“If you miss that mid-October window, we recommend booking as soon as possible,” Kayak spokeswoman Jessica Casano-Antonellis said. “Domestic fares will rarely decrease beyond October, and international flights will see no decrease in fares.”

To get the best deals if traveling domestically over Thanksgiving, consider departing on Monday or Tuesday and returning on Thanksgiving Day, Friday or the following Tuesday. This could save you as much as 23 percent on the departing leg and 20 percent on the return leg. If traveling internationally, leave as close to or on Thanksgiving Day and return Wednesday or beyond the following week.

The same goes for Christmas travel. If you depart as close to the 25th as possible, you can save up to 20 percent according to Kayak. With Christmas being on a Wednesday this year, travelers who choose the weekends surrounding Christmas will encounter fares up to 24 percent higher. International travelers looking for the cheapest flights may want to consider trips of three to five days in length centered around the holiday.

If you are looking to ring in the New Year away from home, shorter trips centered around New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day (i.e. Dec. 29-Jan. 1 or Dec. 31-Jan. 3) are more than 15 percent cheaper than weeklong getaways for both international and domestic travel.

Feeling spontaneous? If you still haven’t picked a destination and are looking for a sweet deal, Casano-Antonellis recommended Toronto. “Toronto was the only popular destination where airfare decreased between 2011 and 2012. Our data also showed that Las Vegas was the most popular destination and also the fifth cheapest among the top 15 destinations. Other cheap top destinations included Orlando, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale and Denver.”

Another way to save big on winter travel is to wait until about a week after the New Year’s festivities have abated. “Our data shows that the month of January was the second cheapest month to fly domestically, with an average fare of $305.70,” Casano-Antonellis said. “We also found that February is one of the cheapest months for international flights, with an average fare of $945.38.”

In summary, get busy booking your holiday travel using these expert tips.