When to book holiday flights for best price and options

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When to book holiday flights for best price and options

by: Gregory Kar | .
Chicago Tribune | .
published: October 20, 2015

Holiday turkey and jingle bells may seem far off, but several holiday airfare forecasts are out, with many predicting lower prices this year and one claiming that Tuesday is the best day to buy a plane ticket for Thanksgiving.

Fare experts say there is really no one best day to buy for everybody because it depends on your destination and the dates and times you’ll be flying.

But based on historical average fares, Tuesday is the best day to book for Thanksgiving, according to online travel agency Orbitz. Friday is the best day to book for Christmas, and Saturday is the best for New Year’s, it said.

If nothing else, the predictions highlight the general notion that if you want the best combination of flight availability and fares, now is the time to be seriously thinking about locking in those holiday season flights.

Otherwise you might not only pay more but find yourself flying at 6 a.m. on a connecting flight and occupying a middle seat near the aircraft lavatory.

“The longer you wait, the availability of seats gets much thinner, and prices go up as a result of that,” said Jeanenne Tornatore, senior editor of Orbitz.com. “It all depends on the days that you’re traveling and the times you’re traveling, when it comes to airfare prices.”

However, based on price alone, waiting doesn’t hurt that much for Thanksgiving until you get inside of 10 days to your flight, according to airfare data site Hopper. Domestic round-trip prices rise less than 5 percent up to 10 days before departure and then spike sharply, it said.

Those flying home to Chicago will pay among the highest premiums, at 131 percent more than a similar flight earlier in the fall, Hopper found. Average is 97 percent more.

The good news for all fliers is that holiday airfares overall – for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s – are 9 percent lower on average than last year, Orbitz said.

Another online travel agency, Priceline, agreed that booking through mid-October would yield the best fares, which will average $408 for Thanksgiving and $485 for Christmas. Of course, prices also depend on the route and flight.

Other advice from the travel experts:

– Mind your connection times. Some flights might leave only a half-hour for a connection, which might not be enough during the busy travel season, Tornatore said. “I would suggest leaving at least an hour because you have to allow for increased delays because of increased travel volumes on those busy days,” she said.

– Check less popular times – early in the morning or after 8 p.m. – which are likely to cost less, according to Priceline.

– Consider on-time probabilities. It might be no fun to rise at 4 a.m. to catch an early-morning flight, but those flights are more likely to depart on time. Delays often cascade through the day, making afternoon flights riskier, Tornatore said.

– Pick ideal days to save money. Priceline cites the best departure dates for Thanksgiving as Nov. 19, 23 or 26, and returning Nov. 27, Dec. 1 or Dec. 2. For Christmas, ideal dates are departures on Dec. 21, 22, 23, 24 or 25 and returning Dec. 28, 29 and 31.

Last year, half of air travelers had Thanksgiving flights booked by Oct. 20, and half booked Christmas flights by Nov. 13, according to Orbitz.