When Is the Absolute Best Time to Buy Holiday Airfares?

Home for the Holidays

Ronald Reagan Airport.
••• Mark Williamson/Getty Images

As travelers start thinking about their holiday travel plans, online travel agency Hipmunk has come out with its predictions on the best times to buy those flights. After analyzing historical data, Hipmunk found that the best week to buy airline tickets for Thanksgiving and Christmas 2017 is by Oct. 30.

For Thanksgiving, Hipmunk analyzed the median historical roundtrip booking prices for U.S. flights departing between Nov.

20, 2016, and Nov 24, 2016, and returning between Nov. 25, 2016, and Nov. 27, 2016. “The top 20 airports for the purposes of this study were determined by search and booking popularity for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays,” said spokeswoman Kelly Soderlund.

Travelers can save up to 27 percent on Thanksgiving airfares if they buy their tickets by Sept. 25. Christmas travelers can save nearly 40 percent on fares if they make their purchases by Sept. 25.

Prices vary depending on the departure city, so Hipmunk separated the larger markets from the smaller ones. In larger cities with a high volume of travelers and are served by all the major airlines, holiday pricing tends to follow a fairly standard pattern for the optimal time to buy, but the savings differs by market.

Looking at Thanksgiving booking trends, 64 percent of bookings are done by the beginning of October. The busiest travel day is the day before Thanksgiving, booked by 33 percent of travelers.

And the least busy travel day is Thanksgiving day, booked by only 11 percent of travelers.

For Christmas, 84 percent of bookings are done by the beginning of October. The busiest travel days are Dec. 22-23, booked by 56 percent of travelers. And the least busy travel day is Christmas day, booked by only one percent of travelers.

Travelers buying airfare the week of Oct. 30 still saved up to 24 percent on Thanksgiving flights, and up to 31 percent on Christmas flights. “Flight prices for holiday travel tend to fluctuate through September and October, so it’s best to set a fare alert—like one available through Hipmunk—so that you are notified when prices change,” said Adam Goldstein, Hipmunk’s Co-founder and CEO. “So long as you book before Halloween, you’ll usually avoid the highest prices.”

Thanksgiving is celebrated in the U.S. only, said Soderlund. “This is a holiday when families usually go to visit out-of-town relatives that are based here, with some exceptions,” she said. “To make a direct comparison for Christmas, we only analyzed holiday airfares that fly to U.S.-based destinations.”

Soderlund recommended that travelers sign up for Hipmunk’s fare alert to keep track of roundtrip, one-way, or multi-city flights on the dates for the holidays. “To add a fare alert, click the fare alert button in the blue bar at the top of the website’s page,” she said. “Enter your email and your alert will be set. Then, when a fluctuation in pricing occurs, Hipmunk will send you an alert so that you’re always in the know.”

If you miss the holiday airfares buy dates, Soderlund advises travelers to check their fare alerts for potential last-minute deals. “There will always be surprises out there for savvy consumers who can be flexible with their holiday travel plans,” she said. “Hipmunk’s Fare Calendar allows users to select multiple dates of departure and return so that they can easily see which dates offer the lowest prices, and of course, always consider alternate airports.”