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Some tips on when to book holiday flights

October 11, 2013|By Chris Erskine
  • Radio City Music Hall will be on lots of lists this holiday season.
Radio City Music Hall will be on lots of lists this holiday season. (Mike Coppola / Getty Images )

The bad news: If you haven’t yet booked your Thanksgiving flight, the best fares are gone. The good news: There are some secrets for getting the most for your money. frequently sifts its database for prime booking windows, and has released some tips for holiday travelers looking for the best times to lock in their flights.

Most of the time, CEO Jeff Klee says, that booking sweet spot is seven weeks in advance of your trip. His company’s studies have found that booking too early can be as expensive as booking too late. There is some leeway, and it varies by location, but Klee urges travelers to lock in their flights approximately four to 10 weeks before they plan on flying.

“That’s the conclusion we’ve come to during the non-holidays, but when it comes to the holidays, all bets are off,” he says.

In those cases, demand goes up for certain days, so Thanksgiving travelers who need to leave on the Wednesday before and return the Sunday after will already find fewer options. Those are the busiest flying days of the year, and when demand rises, so do fares.

“The best fares for Thanksgiving have already passed," Klee said.

Klee suggests travelers with flexibility look for alternative travel dates. The best Thanksgiving date? This year, those who leave on the Monday before Thanksgiving and return the Tuesday afterward will save the most, on average $249. studied various combos of Thanksgiving travel dates; for the results, click here

For Christmas, those who are going to warm weather locations such as Hawaii or Florida, or New Year’s party spots such as Las Vegas, should start looking now.

Klee also suggests being flexible on alternative airports, and when using airfare search engines, seeking fares at each airport individually rather than clustered with several other airports in one single search.

Because Christmas and New Year’s both fall in the middle of the week, on Wednesday, there should be less of a travel crunch, giving consumers a bit more flexibility on their travel dates.

Travelers need to use every edge these days, Klee says. Airlines have become so good at matching flight capacity to demand that there is rarely an abundance of seats, a situation that used to make for bargain shopping.

That shift, he said, has occurred in the past five years. And the airlines that have excelled at this are the ones that have survived. Such efficiencies don’t necessarily benefit the consumer, though as Klee notes, it makes for a healthier airline industry in the long term.

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