How Far In Advance Should You Book Holiday Flights?

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Unless you stumble upon a particularly good deal, you probably wind up asking yourself this every year. Should you book in May for Thanksgiving? Should you wait until the last minute?

I’ve always struggled with these decisions, typically having a gut feel for when I should start looking. This year however, with flights to some of my possible destinations already coming in at $600, I wasn’t sure. Would there be a sale closer in? Or would the prices just get worse??

Finding the “sweet spot”

I did a little  research to see what others, hopefully better informed, were saying and found an article on looking at the average price of flights last year which is definitely worth a quick read. Turns out, 7 weeks out is roughly the lowest price for domestic flights. But for Thanksgiving it was 96 days, roughly 14 weeks out. Oops.

Cheap Air average-airfare-2012 graph

Risk vs Reward?

Another factor I had to take into consideration is how much the fares were likely to drop if there was a sale. Some destinations are more likely to go on sale and for a dramatic savings. Others stay pretty much the same.

One of my destinations on the West Coast frequently prices out at $350, so it was possible I could save $200+ by gambling on a sale whereas tickets to see relatives in Florida are usually at $400 regardless of holidays. If I choose the west coast waiting a few weeks might net some big savings, if I’m thinking Florida the prices probably won’t drop significantly but could go up by alot.

Hedging Your Bets

If you’re both risk adverse and hate the idea that someone else might a better deal by waiting, consider booking through a site like or Orbitz which offer “price protection.” offers Price Drop Payback which offers you a travel voucher (for use on their site) of up to $100 if the price of your exact itinerary drops at any point after you buy it. The trick is apparently you have to check frequently using the link in your account in order to claim it. The good news is, apparently any drop in price qualifies for the $100 voucher, though you can only claim the voucher once per trip.

Orbitz offers you Price Assurance — if another person books your exact itinerary on Orbitz for less, you’ll get Orbucks (I hate that name) to use towards future travel for 110% of the price difference, up to $250. So you have to hope that if the price drops someone else picks your exact dates and times (which is unlikely) but on the other hand, unlike Cheap Air, you don’t have to constantly check on your reservation.

Both have their benefits and their quirks, so its up to you which, if either, will help with price anxiety.

And of course I always have to fight the urge to wait for a last minute sale — forever encouraged by the fact one year, almost a decade ago, I had planned to make the long drive to see family for Christmas but found a ticket two days before I was leaving for only $150 with perfect times and dates. It was a fluke, but hope springs eternal…



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Living for the little (and big things) that make life so fun, especially mistake deals and crazy last minute weekend mileage runs across the world.


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