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The Best Time to Book Thanksgiving & Holiday Flights 2013

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AirportBy now you know to expect high fares for Christmas and Thanksgiving travel, but there are a few booking secrets you can employ to get ahead of the pack. Here’s what you can do to score to best deal on holiday flights 2013.

So How is 2013 Shaping Up?

Once again, airfare is up and by all analysis the 2013 holiday season will have higher fares than 2012.

Hotwire found that fall airfares for 2013 are up 4 to 5 percent for domestic travel. This fall, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Toronto, and Vancouver represent the best airfare deals for 2013.

Over the holidays, fares are on par with last year according to FareCompare. The site noted that prices are up just 1 percent over 2012, however 2012 prices were at an 8-year high.

Orbitz also noted a fare hike. On average, flights to the top 10 destinations over Thanksgiving are up 9.4 percent. Over the Christmas holiday flights are up 8.6 percent, and flights during New Year’s Eve are up 2.4 percent.

When to Book

calendarIf you’re thinking about Thanksgiving travel, it’s probably too late to take advantage of this year’s lowest fares.

FareCompare CEO and co-founder Rick Seaney claimed last week that you can add $5 every day you wait to book your Thanksgiving ticket. If you wait until October 31, you can expect to pay $140 more.

Kayak offered a more tempered approach. The lowest time to book Thanksgiving flights appeared between mid-August and Labor Day. After the August drop, fares were predicted to stay low until the last week of October. Last-minute flights after October are predicted to rise 21 percent.

Hipmunk offered yet another schedule for fare hikes. CEO Adam Goldstein noted that between August and September fares go up 35 percent, then an addition 10 percent in October and 15 percent in November.

When it comes to the holiday rush or any other seasonal rush, it’s always best to keep your eyes out for fare sales. For the legacy carriers you can periodically find fare sales for year-round travel, a 330-day travel period, says Peter Thornton, senior airfare analyst at Smarter Travel Media, parent company of Airfare Watchdog, BookingBuddy.com and other travel resources. Keep in mind a fare is not valid for all 330 days and blackouts will apply.

Thornton  notes,

“There will be more availability for the peak dates when [fare] sales happen just after the said travel period. February can be a good time to pounce on seats for peak holiday travel when the 330-day travel period flash sales occur. Of course, there is no guarantee that any given route will have one of those sales and no idea of knowing exactly when. Alerts are key.”

Of course, the standard wisdom about when to book applies. The best day to book flights remains at the start of the week. Hotwire suggests, “Book on Monday or Tuesday and fly on Tuesday or Wednesday to find the best deals, as planes are typically at their fullest Thursday through Monday.”

How to Know You Found a Dealphoto-1

If you’re even questioning whether the airfare you found for the holidays is a bargain, you’ve probably found a deal. To understand whether or not you have found a deal, search for the same route on a different days outside the holiday time period.

Don’t expect the best airfares of the year for holiday travel. Thornton confirms what we all already know too well: “You will pretty much never see the lowest fare on offer available for peak holiday travel dates. These dates can often be much, much higher than dates which are just a few days or a week apart from them.”

Instead, Thornton confirms that you will have found a deal if “the price for peak holiday travel is the same or only slightly higher than the off-peak prices (September/October, early November/December).”

The Best Days NOT to Travel for Thanksgiving and Christmas

xmasguamIf you’re worried about crowds at the airport, chances are you are flying during some of the most expensive days of the year.

If possible, avoid traveling on November 27, the day before Thanksgiving; December 21, the Saturday before Christmas; and December 28, the busiest day for both New Years and Christmas travel.

Orbitz noted that those traveling on November 27 will experience the most expensive airfares on average, paying $499, compare this to the cheapest average airfare of  $406 on Thanksgiving day. On Christmas, December 21 has an average airfare cost of $591, compared to $408 on Christmas Eve. For December 28, the most expensive departure date of the holiday week, the average airfare costs $513.

Airfare experts at Kayak confirm that Wednesday, November 27, the day before Thanksgiving is one of the most expensive days to travel. Also to be avoided are Sunday, December 1 and Monday, December 2, the dates most are returning home from Thanksgiving travel.

Kayak analysts also recommend avoiding December 21, which for them is considered the second-busiest travel day of the year.

The Best Days to Travel

When it comes to the cheapest days for travel over the holidays, fly on the actual holidays. For Thanksgiving, according to Kayak the least expensive is actually Thanksgiving Day. You’ll also save if you travel on the Monday or Tuesday before and the Saturday and Tuesday.

Additionally, you will save up to 20 percent if you depart close to or on Christmas Day and returning close to New Year’s Day.

If you don’t want to travel over the holidays, you can save money on airfares by traveling for longer. If you’re able to take an extra long trip, (example leave before December 18 and returning after January 6) you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a decent price).

Farecast optionsTools to Use

As you book, keep in mind these resources:

  • Bing Travel has a flight-prediction tool that suggests whether prices are expected to go up, down or remain the same, based on historical data.
  • Subscribe to airfare alerts to jump on airfare sales when they happen. AirfareWatchdog has them, as well as Travelzoo, Cheapoair, Hotwire, and Expedia. If you do score a deal, pay attention to the fine print in terms of blackout dates and cancellation policies.

By Lily J. Kosner for PeterGreenberg.com

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