Winter Vacation Travel: Plunge into Flights Now or Roll the Dice? | Tech US News

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(CNN) – High prices, canceled flights, booked accommodation and rental cars. The summer of travel chaos still feels warm and fresh somehow.

But it’s time to look ahead, because there’s another critical moment coming up in less than two months: the 2022 winter holiday travel season.

So put away the t-shirts, pull out the sweaters and get ready for winter break. Here’s what you need to know:

When should I buy tickets for winter holiday flights?

Making decisions about when to buy plane tickets seems more complicated than ever. Prices change daily, even hourly. The staffing and capacity ramifications of the pandemic continue to be felt.

But October is probably the best window of opportunity. In other words, NOW.

“Typically … travelers tend to start planning their vacations too late and miss out on some of the best prices available,” said Hayley Berg, chief economist at Hopper, the travel planning and booking app. And he told CNN Travel that he’s seeing people waiting later than ever to seal the deal during the uptick in the pandemic.

“For the holidays in particular, that’s a real problem because now is the best time to book your Thanksgiving and Christmas travel,” Berg said.

Hopper suggested in an email that he wait until mid-October at the latest.

It’s not just a price issue, Berg said. He also noted another risk from waiting: “Flights can be completely sold out on the dates you want to fly.”

Worst time to book? ‘The last minute’

Scott Keyes, the founder of flight deals and travel advice site Scott’s Cheap Flights, told CNN Travel that the best deals were actually last summer (remember, for 2023). But don’t get discouraged this year, he said.

“The second best time to book your flights is now, because the worst time to book them is to wait until the last minute,” Keyes said. “If you haven’t booked those flights yet and you really hope to travel during the winter break, try to book in the next week or two.”

Keyes thinks airfares are likely to get more expensive, not less, as we approach Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Phil Dengler, co-owner of travel resource The Vacationer, uses a popular fall vacation as his guide.

“I consider Halloween the deadline to get a reasonable price on a Thanksgiving flight, but I aim to book before then,” Dengler said in an email interview. “After Halloween, prices will increase significantly as Thanksgiving approaches. For Christmas flights, you should book before Thanksgiving, but the best deals are between now and Halloween.”

An Alaska Airlines flight arrives at Los Angeles International Airport on October 2.  How you time your ticket purchase can depend on many personal factors in addition to airline prices.

An Alaska Airlines flight arrives at Los Angeles International Airport on October 2. How you time your ticket purchase can depend on many personal factors in addition to airline prices.

AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images

The AAA auto and travel club had different price data for Thanksgiving airfares.

Based on 2019, 2021 and 2022 booking data so far, AAA found the lowest average rates just seven to 14 days before Thanksgiving, with the highest prices 28 to 60 days before the holiday. However, the data also showed that prices rose in the last seven days before the holiday.

So should you wait? Much depends on personal circumstances, such as your budget and the flexibility you have with your flight plans, AAA told CNN Travel. If you don’t have a lot of wiggle room, it may not be worth the risk to wait for the chance of a lower rate.

“Airlines have fewer flights than in 2019, which means fewer options for consumers,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of travel at AAA. “With staff shortages and capacity at their peak, you run the risk of delaying or even missing flights, especially if weather plays into the equation.”

What are the best days to fly for Thanksgiving?

Expedia shared some ideas for when to travel for Thanksgiving (Thursday, November 24):

To save money, the travel company suggested waiting until Monday (November 21) to depart instead of Saturday (November 19) and Sunday (November 20), “as the weekend is the most expensive time to start your Thanksgiving week journey.”

Average ticket prices for Monday are more than 30% lower than Saturday and almost 15% cheaper than Wednesday (November 23), he said.

As for returns, Expedia said Friday (November 25) is the cheapest date. Returning on Monday (November 28) instead of Sunday (November 27) could save 5% to 10%.

Hopper also suggests flying on Thanksgiving if you can, offering savings of about $100 on peak fares. Also, the planes should be less crowded.

Keyes said Thanksgiving weekend comes with a bonus. “Thanksgiving is the best hidden week for international travel,” Keyes said.

Why is that?

Christmas and New Year’s are celebrated all over the world and therefore come with a global demand, but Thanksgiving is only a US holiday, he said. Domestic flights are expensive, but not international flights.

“Find some amazing deals across Europe during Thanksgiving week.” He said that in a price check this week, he found a cheaper fare from New York to Lisbon, Portugal ($429 round-trip) than to Cedar Rapids, Iowa ($567 round-trip).

What are the best days to fly for Christmas?

Hopper had advice on when to travel for Christmas (Sunday 25 December):

For departure, he said travelers can save $120 on peak fares if they leave on the Monday (December 19) or Tuesday (December 20) before Christmas. Going out on Christmas Eve could save people about $100 this year, Hopper estimated. The site said to avoid flying on Thursday (December 22) or Friday (December 23) as those will be the most expensive travel days.

For returns, Tuesday (December 27) or Wednesday (December 28) after Christmas Day could save you $40 per ticket. He said he would avoid returning on Monday (December 26), New Year’s Day or January 2, the most expensive return dates.

Some other tips from the experts

Have your ducks in a row: “Preparation is the best way to reduce stress when flying over Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Dengler said. “If possible, book an early morning nonstop flight” on a lower-volume travel day. He also advised not to check the bag if possible.

Treat yourself to: If you fly several times a year or more and rate yourself as low-stress, Keyes suggested getting a credit card that includes “compelling benefits.” This includes access to special airport lounges that take you away from the crowds and offer free food, drinks and even massages.

Avoid the rush: If you’re driving, Twidale said leave early in the morning before rush hour or after 8 p.m. If you need a rental car, book early to lock in the rate and pay in advance to save money. If you are flying but driving to the airport, reserve parking spaces. He also suggested signing up for TSA precheck to avoid long security lines.

Hotels: Berg said that if you’re going to a big city (think New York, Chicago, etc.), you’re likely to get a better deal if you wait a few days before your arrival to book your room. The caveats: It’s for people who aren’t dead in a certain hotel or specific neighborhood. And for smaller towns, he said people should still book early as options are limited.

Top image: The United Airlines ticket counter at Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Va., on Christmas Eve 2021. (Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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