- Being flexible in your travel dates is the best way to find the best airfare deals.
- Book early departures to minimize the risk of your flight being delayed or canceled.
- Take advantage of price trackers to help you figure out when to book.
Whether you’re traveling this winter to see family – or to get away from it all – now’s the time to start planning that trip. (It’s not too late to book a Thanksgiving trip, either, but some of the best deals may have already passed.)
Expedia recently released its 2023 Travel Hacks report, and Priceline also released tips for booking your winter getaway.
Read on for more details, but the key things to know are that even though prices are up this winter, flexibility in your travel days can help you save money, and that booking at least a month in advance for domestic flights is your best bet for the best deals.
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Here’s what else online booking sites have found on the best strategies for planning your winter getaway:
When to buy plane tickets
Advice on the best day or time to book flights tends to be controversial among industry watchers. Airline pricing is dynamic and ticket prices can change almost at any time. Travelers can set price alerts on many booking platforms and on Google Flights. In general, it’s a good idea to book if the numbers seem like a good deal when you check.
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That said, according to Expedia, booking at least one month before a domestic flight or six months before an international flight saves travelers an average of 10% off their ticket price.
The booking platform also indicates that Sunday is the best day of the week to buy your plane ticket. According to data from Expedia, travelers who buy their tickets on Sunday save an average of 5% on domestic flights and up to 15% on international flights compared to regular Friday prices.
Expedia also offers Price Drop Protection, an add-on that will refund you if the ticket price drops after booking. Many airlines have also introduced more flexible booking policies in recent years, meaning that travelers who book directly with their carrier may be able to cancel and rebook their ticket if the price drops, keeping the difference as credit for future travel.
For domestic travel, data from Google Flights suggests the lowest prices tend to be between three weeks and three months before your departure date. The lowest prices are on average 44 days, or about 1.5 months, before.
International travel will require a bit more time and planning. For travel from the US to Europe, Google Flights suggests getting it wrong early – 129 days, or nearly five months, in advance will provide the best deals. Try not to book less than 50 days before your trip.
When are the best times to fly?
Especially on busy travel days around the holidays, it’s a good idea to fly early in the day.
According to Expedia, flights departing after 3 p.m. are 50% more likely to be canceled than those departing earlier.
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Going on a Wednesday can also save you money, according to the Expedia survey. According to the data, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays tend to be the most popular (and therefore most expensive) days, but Wednesday departures are on average 15% cheaper for domestic flights.
How being flexible can help
According to Priceline, flexibility is key when it comes to finding the best deals for traveling this winter.
“You can find cheaper flights and discounts by delaying your return (for example, two to five days before or after each vacation),” Priceline said. “Friday, December 23 will be the busiest day for flights and rental cars, but travelers can avoid crowded airports, traffic…and save money by extending their holiday trips.”
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If your travel schedule isn’t dictated by school vacations or family visiting for a specific event, Priceline also says considering less popular weeks can help keep your costs down. According to company data, the first five days of December will be the cheapest travel days in the coming months.
What else to know about traveling this winter
While airfare and hotel prices are on the rise this winter, rental car rates are flat for the year, Priceline says — though still more expensive than they were before the pandemic.
Priceline data also shows that Las Vegas is the cheapest domestic destination to visit this winter.
Contributor: Kathleen Wong, USA TODAY