With summer travel behind us it’s time to start planning holiday getaways. And if you’re trying to score a cheap Thanksgiving or Christmastime flight back home, listen up. Buzz60’s Susana Victoria Perez has more.
The turkey fixins and Christmas gifts can wait, but there’s one holiday chore that shouldn’t be put off much longer if your plans include travel: shopping for an airline ticket.
There are no magical dates for booking holiday flights or any flights, as prices change by the minute due to competition and other factors, but travel experts who comb through past holiday booking data and travel trends say there are dates to keep an eye on.
The best shopping window for Thanksgiving and Christmas flights began Sept. 25 for the best deals and availability and runs for a month, according to AAA, the national travel agency and automobile club.
Hopper, an airfare prediction and travel booking app, recommends booking any Thanksgiving or Christmas flights by Halloween for the best deals.
“You’re in a sweet spot right now for the holidays,” said Paula Twidale, vice president of travel for AAA.
Twidale isn’t traveling for the holidays this year, but when she does, this is the time of year she’s in “panic mode” trying to solidify flights.
Wait too long, she said, and the choices dwindle.
“You are subject to not getting what you want … and having to do multiple stops,” she said.
Complicating matters this holiday travel season: the prolonged grounding of the Boeing 737 Max following two fatal crashes in five months.
Three of the four biggest U.S. carriers – American, United and Southwest – had the planes in their fleets when it was grounded by the FAA on March 13.
And they expected to have even more of the planes in their fleets by this time. Southwest had 34 Max 8s at the grounding and planned to have more than double that by the end of the year.
Bottom line: Southwest’s seat capacity is down 8% as the holiday travel season approaches.
Fewer seats lead to a supply-demand imbalance and the potential for higher fares. Southwest Chief Financial Officer Tammy Romo said the airline has had to reduce some flights on peak holiday travel dates.
“You might want to make that (booking) decision earlier rather than later to protect yourself,” Twidale said.
Boeing 737 Max fallout: How an 8 a.m. nonstop turned into an evening flight with a stop
Holiday travel booking tips
1. For Thanksgiving flights, you’ll find the best deals on Monday, Nov. 25 and Thanksgiving Day, according to AAA and Hopper.
2. For Christmas flights, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are the most affordable. The next best option, according to Hopper, Dec. 23.
3. When comparing airlines, don’t forget to factor in baggage fees. Most major airlines charge $30 for the first checked bag and $40 for the second bag. Southwest allows two free checked bags, but its fares can be higher on many routes. Budget airlines like Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant also charge for carry-on bags.
4. The lowest fares on American, Delta and United are called basic economy fares. Make sure you know the restrictions, which are detailed during booking. United doesn’t allow basic economy ticket holders to bring a standard size carry-on. You have to check it for a fee.
5. Seat selection fees, a charge to pick an advance seat assignment, are prevalent on most airlines except Southwest, and they add up. Make sure you know what you’re getting – or not getting – for your money. “Preferred” seats are simply ordinary seats airlines consider in high demand, such as window, middle and aisle seats near the front of the plane, while the pricier extra legroom seats come with extra legroom and, in some cases, other perks.
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