How Far in Advance Should I Book a Flight? (and Other Holiday Travel FAQs)

If you’re traveling this holiday season, whether it’s to visit family, see friends, or treat yourself to a destination celebration, you’re probably all too aware of the chaos that can reign during peak travel periods. From overcrowded airports to less-than-ideal seats on planes, there’s a lot that can turn your happy holiday into a stressful (and expensive) one!

To help, we’ve put together some pro tips for booking the best flights to and from your destination – at the right time and the right price – plus answers to our three favorite holiday travel FAQs.

When is the cheapest day to book a flight?

Historically, travelers have been told the cheapest day to book a flight is Tuesdays. A decade ago, this was true; airlines typically launched sales or promotional booking incentives on that day, and competitor airlines often followed suit.

However, this conventional advice is no longer the most accurate. Studies by Expedia and Google found that the cheapest booking days vary wildly – sometimes flights ran discounts on Fridays, while others found that flight prices on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays were less expensive than flights booked on weekends.

The bad news is that this means there’s no hard and fast date you should add to your calendar to be sure and snag the best flight deals. The good news is this empowers you to grab the best flight you see on the day you see it – because if you wait around, there’s a good chance it’ll be gone the next day.

Another little-known tip? Flying on the holiday itself can actually save money. It’s not ideal for everyone, but if you’re able to fly into town on Thanksgiving and still make it to Grandma’s in time for turkey, that could be the best of both worlds: time with family without your wallet taking a hit (meaning, more money for holiday presents!) 

How far in advance should I book a flight?

Just because certain days are perhaps no more or less likely to yield flight discounts than other days doesn’t mean you should give up on monitoring flight prices. The moment you know you might be traveling during peak holiday travel months (November and December), start monitoring flights so you can get a good deal. That said, wait until September or October to actually book a ticket, as prices can be as much as $100 cheaper per ticket in those months than in the summer. 

While planning a last-minute trip during November or December might be just the winter doldrum-busting move you need, it may come with a hefty price tag; there’s a reason experts suggest sticking to a 20 to 60-day window when booking holiday travel. If you simply must get away, consider being flexible with your travel dates. Many airline websites and third-party booking platforms offer you a calendar view where you can compare dates and ticket prices to get the best deal. Flying on less popular days of the week will make it easier to find deals.

What is the best time of day to fly?

You probably know the song and dance well: you arrive at the airport, wait in line after line, get through security, and somehow end up rushing to the gate (maybe with Starbucks in hand). As holiday travel ramps up, so too does the number of travelers at pretty much every airport. 

Like most travel advice, your mileage on which day to fly may vary (pun not intended). That said, while the best time of day to fly varies based on the route, the time of day to fly is reported to be a midweek morning, preferably before 8 a.m. While you might definitely need that coffee to make it, you’ll enjoy a quieter flight with shorter security and bag drop-off lines…and at least you can sleep on the plane! 

This advice holds true for international travelers as well; departing your home country early in the morning will not only ensure you have a relatively peaceful flight but that you’ll more or less be aligned with the time zone in which you land (assuming you sleep on the flight). This ensures you spend less of your holiday jet-lagged and more of it celebrating with your friends, family, and loved ones.

A word to the wise: Keep in mind that the holiday season is naturally more travel-heavy than other seasons of the year, so just because you’re booking your travel on a historically “low-travel” day doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll encounter near-empty flights and a seamless security line. Planning ahead to cut down on time spent at the airport by investing in TSA Pre-Check or shipping your checked luggage to your final destination are simple things that can make all the difference in your day-of-travel experience.

Holiday travel is rarely as glamorous as our favorite Hallmark rom-coms would have us believe – but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it easier on your mind and wallet. By strategically booking your air travel for the best dates and times, you might even be able to enjoy the travel experience. After all, what they say is true: life should be about the journey and the destination.

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