Making travel plans for the holiday season is a huge part of holiday stress. It almost always feels like you’re being price gouged no matter when you make your reservations.
With Thanksgiving approaching, online travel agencies have been busily mining their historical data to find the magic moment for making flight and hotel arrangements.
The results, naturally, are all over the place. Some say you’re already too late to get the best deal on Thanksgiving travel. Some say you’re too early. The truth is, it all depends — on your destination, your flexibility and how much value you place on an aisle seat near the front of the cabin.
By most accounts, you will probably pay on average somewhere between $400 and $500 for air travel during the Thanksgiving holiday.
If you depart or return on Thanksgiving Day, you could pay as much as 30 percent below average, according to Kayak.com. The highest fares are weekend departure and return dates, so plan to stay through the weekend and you’ll save about 20 percent. Return on a weekday the following week (or possibly that Friday after Thanksgiving) to avoid crowds and save.
Here are some other helpful tips for booking Thanksgiving travel:
Hipmunk: According to Hipmunk, you’re late. You should have booked Thanksgiving travel before Labor Day to save about $140. The good news is, if you need a hotel, you can save almost $50 by booking in November.
Kayak: Kayak suggests booking Thanksgiving travel two to four weeks in advance. That puts the sweet spot right around the end of October. But last year, the lowest average airfares for domestic travel were found in early November, so it may be best to wait a bit. If you’re Caribbean bound, booking in mid-November instead of mid-October will save you at least 16 percent on airfare. And international travelers should plan to book as soon as possible. Waiting until next month could push airfares to Europe, Asia and South America as much as 28 percent higher than the average.
Orbitz: The Holiday Fare Trends chart from Orbitz green lights booking Thanksgiving travel in October. Booking the week of Oct. 13 and Oct. 20 (except on Oct. 21 and Oct. 24) will yield fares 5 percent lower than average. Wait until the last minute and you’ll pay 5 percent more than average.
What you can take away from all this is don’t wait until the last minute. No airline is going to offer a fire sale on unsold seats during Thanksgiving weekend (or any other weekend for that matter).
If you’re planning to travel on one of the few remaining low-cost carriers — such as Spirit or Southwest Airlines — historical wisdom suggests booking early is better than booking later.
There are so many factors impacting the cost of air travel today, it sometimes seems the only surefire way to save is to travel when no one wants to travel, to a place no one wants to go.