Holiday Airfares Are the Highest They’ve Been in Years—Here’s the Best Time to Book and How to Save

Fear not, fellow procrastinators. It’s not too late to book holiday travel, but act swiftly and smartly.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

San Juan, Puerto Rico, is among the most popular travel destinations this holiday season.

Photo by Robert V. Ruggiero/Unsplash

This year, my husband, our two young kids, and I will be celebrating Thanksgiving a little differently—on an airplane. When we initially looked into booking four economy round-trip flights over Thanksgiving week, to say we experienced sticker shock is an understatement. So, we played with the dates and opted for a less conventional flying time (i.e., the exact moment when countless Americans will be sitting at the dinner table) to score a better deal.

This tactic is among several hacks that can help you beat this year’s soaring holiday travel airfares.

“After two years of depressed holiday season travel due to waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans are gearing up for a season of Thanksgiving and Christmas travel once again,” reports travel booking site Hopper in its 2022 Holiday Travel Outlook. “Significant factors including jet fuel prices, fewer flights scheduled, and two years of pent-up holiday travel demand will combine this year to drive Thanksgiving and Christmas airfares to their highest in the last five years.”

The good news is that while holiday airfares are reaching a five-year peak, travel costs are at least coming down from summer 2022 highs. Flight prices have dipped 8.8 percent since last month, and hotel room rates are down about 2.3 percent since last month, according to Sally French, travel expert at financial advice site NerdWallet.

“Hotels and airfares hit record highs during the summer of 2022, but those prices have reached a top,” states French. But, she adds, “If you’re building your next vacation budget based on a 2019 trip, understand that you’ll likely pay far more now for pretty much every expense.”

Fortunately, there are ways you can save. Here are some expert tips on how to cut costs and when the ideal time is to book those holiday flights and travel.

The best time to book holiday 2022 travel

For both Thanksgiving and Christmas, Hopper recommends booking between now and October 20. “Prices will continue to fall until early September then remain relatively flat until mid-October,” Hopper reports. But the sooner the better. With each passing day, tickets tick upwards. Ideally, you should have your holiday travel booked by October 10.

How to get a good deal on holiday travel

Start planning now

Get ahead of the last-minute rush—and price spikes—by locking in holiday travel plans ASAP. Booking patterns indicate that during the pandemic travelers became more prone to making last-minute decisions due to an uncertain travel climate. But now is the time to break that habit for those who want to save some money on flights, car rentals, and hotels.

Look into off-peak dates and times

You may not need to go as far as my family did and fly on Thanksgiving proper, but it helps if you can avoid the most popular travel times. “For Thanksgiving, flying the Monday of Thanksgiving week and returning any weekday of the following week will save you the most,” notes Hopper. (We also did the following week for our return and will be flying back the Wednesday after Thanksgiving to nab more affordable fares.) Flying out the Monday or Tuesday before Christmas weekend and returning midweek the following week could also help you save on flights.

Create price trackers and alerts

A helpful way to monitor airfares is to use the price tracking tools on sites like Google Flights, Hopper, or Kayak. Use these alerts to compare flights and then lock them in when they appear to be at their lowest or most reasonable. Airfares will continue to move up and down daily into early October, before steadily rising in the last two months before Christmas. “The next few weeks of volatile prices means travelers who are proactively monitoring prices could get notified of great, time sensitive deals,” Hopper notes.

Know a good deal when you see one

How do you know when to book? According to Hopper, as of mid-September, what would be considered good-deal domestic round-trip airfares for Thanksgiving are averaging $350 and for the Christmas period they are averaging $463. So, if you’re finding fares around those prices or lower, you likely aren’t going to find anything much better. For international round-trip airfares, Thanksgiving averages are $795 and Christmas averages are $1,300. (So maybe if you were thinking to go somewhere abroad, Thanksgiving is the better time to do so this year.)

Be open to alternate destinations (and airports)

If you’re flying to see friends or family, obviously there isn’t much wiggle room on the destination. But you can always look into nearby hubs that might offer more attractive airfares. Maybe see what’s on offer at Burbank or Long Beach versus LAX, LaGuardia versus JFK, or Oakland airport versus SFO.

And if you are planning to go on a vacation somewhere other than home for the holidays—maybe an escape to Mexico or the Caribbean or are dreaming of the holiday markets in Europe—but aren’t decided, perhaps let the airfares help dictate your final decision. A great deal could be just the motivation you need to finalize your plan and the place, including to somewhere you maybe hadn’t thought of before.

The most popular domestic destinations for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year include Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York City, Orlando, Phoenix, San Juan (Puerto Rico), and Seattle. As for international destinations, the most popular destinations for the holidays this year include Cancun, Dublin, Madrid, Manila, and Mexico City. If you’re looking to avoid the crowds and higher fares, you may want to look for alternatives to these popular places.

Michelle Baran is the senior travel news editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, pandemic coverage, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.