You Have No Prayer of Getting a Cheap Flight for the Holidays

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Virgin America Handout / AP

Everyone knows that booking early is the only hope travelers have to avoid paying through the nose for holiday flights. This year, the price of booking at the last minute may be higher than ever.

The traditional approach to getting the best prices on holiday flights has been to book early. Based on years of data, Hipmunk, CheapAir, and other flight search sites say that travelers hoping to fly around Thanksgiving and/or Christmas will generally snag the lowest prices by closing the deal 60 to 90 days ahead of time — in late summer or the weeks after Labor Day. Fluky sales do sometimes pop up later in the fall, but for the most part, travelers can expect prices to rise steadily as flights fill up and the holidays creep closer.

While it may be true that fliers who’ve booked early have gotten the best deals, the holiday flights booked thus far haven’t exactly been cheap. The Wall Street Journal’s Scott McCartney points to data from the Airlines Reporting Corp., which indicates that so far flight prices for Thanksgiving travel are up a steep 9.4% compared to a year ago. Prices for Christmas week departures have increased 7.3% compared to the same period in 2012.

(MORE: 6 Outrageous Fees the Airlines Haven’t Thought Of — Yet)

The trend follows a larger pattern in the travel industry in which airline passengers have come to expect higher prices, fees rather than perks, and more crowded flights. During peak holiday travel, the airlines’ strategies to hike revenues also reach their peak because so many travelers have no choice but to pay whatever the asking price is at the time they get their holiday plans in order.

Travel experts offer plenty of suggestions for avoiding sky-high holiday fares. The website CheapAir recommends that fliers avoid traveling on December 1 (Sunday after Thanksgiving) and January 5 (Sunday after Christmas) in particular because fares will be absolutely through the roof. The reason that prices will be so high, mind you, is that these are the dates that most people want to fly — and in some cases, they’re the only dates that people can fly. Airlines are well aware that this is the case, of course, and they price flights accordingly, knowing that some passengers will book on these dates no matter how absurd the price.

Added into this mix is the fact that flights are more crowded than ever even during non-holiday periods — typically 85% full — thanks to consolidation and airlines seeking profits by offering fewer flights and eliminating less profitable routes.

(MORE: Flight of Fancy? The Quest to Make Airline Tickets Less Awful)

In any event, going forward, travelers are all but guaranteed to pay more for holiday period flights with each passing day. So get your plans in order and book your flights ASAP—or start thinking up good excuses for why you won’t be at Grandma’s house this Thanksgiving.

7 comments
Jones71544621
Jones71544621

Obviously land travel is cheaper than air travel but who can have the patience untill destination which takes several hours. If we are not short of budgets air flight is the way to go and if we know where to look, we can get cheaper rates. Look here for eg, http://dess.me/CheapFlight

belindasummers
belindasummers

That's taking advantage of the holidays. Let's give these Airlines companies the pleasure, it just happens once a year. ;)

JimB210
JimB210

Airlines can expect one more thing from many travelers... I'll be traveling at the holidays, and I won't be flying. For my 'intermediate' trip of ~725 miles, I'll drive rather than fly because the aggregate of cost, hassle, and having my car at the end of the trip means the airlines have inconvenienced themselves out of one formerly much more frequent flyer. I can't help but think this is good short-term business sense, and ultimate long-term foolishness.

MairaSweet4
MairaSweet4

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AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

Ah, more news about price hikes.  This in the face of the fact that many of us still do not have jobs and that many of those jobs have not seen an increase in compensation despite record corporate profits, record profits on Wall St., record increases in CEO compensation packages.  The dysfunction of our own government has hampered significantly the recovery of '09.  See Foroohar's commentary on it here; http://business.time.com/2013/10/23/foroohar-americas-real-economic-crisis-is-flat-wages/

It would seem that those who control the money and the levers of government continue to overlook the fact that the middle class, that part of society they ALL depend on, is eroding and is being squeezed economically & unfairly.  Therefore, I suggest we act in a manner that will get everyone's attention.  I suggest we all boycott Christmas.

The "season of giving" (quaint) is actually the season of commercialism.  Most merchants depend on sales during the holiday season to boost their bottom line.  Should all of us simply refuse to participate in the buying frenzy (which is now slated to start on Thanksgiving and not midnight thereof) that financial hit will certainly get the attention of said power brokers and law generators.  It would be the popular equivalent to shutting down the government.  We would shut down Christmas.

Let's focus on the real "reason for the season" and send a real message at the same time.  Boycott Christmas. 

Katie62058541
Katie62058541

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AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@JimB210 Airlines have recently increased air fares, charged fees for baggage and now are trying to squeeze one more seat in each row.  Basically, it's getting more expensive and worse to travel by air.

Add to that the hassle of airport security and driving there looks like a great alternative.

I like your idea.  And I also think that an efficient high speed rail system in this country would compete very effectively with airlines on regional trips of 1,000 miles or so.