How to land a deal on a plane ticket during the holiday travel season

Travelers walk through Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — In a normal year, it would be way too late to start thinking about booking flights for Thanksgiving and Christmas, at least without paying an arm and a leg. But this year is different, and it is giving procrastinators some opportunities to still snag deals on their holiday travel.

If you are feeling the pull to get together with friends and family after more than a year of missed opportunities, you have just a little over a week left to lock in deals on airline tickets for Thanksgiving or Christmas, says flight expert Willis Orlando, member operations specialist for Scott’s Cheap Flights.

“If you booked by the end of October, you might have a good chance to snag one of those $155 cross country deals that we’ve been seeing pretty frequently,” Orlando said.

Travelers can expect to pay around $300 round-trip for their Thanksgiving airfare and around $430 for Christmas, according to travel site, Hopper.

What is a little different this year is that possible last-minute deals might pop up through the season, because while demand is up, it is still below supply.

“The airlines put a ton of planes back in the sky kind of late summer, anticipating a certain demand, and the demand hasn’t quite kept up,” Orlando said. “We’re still about 25% down. And total flights are just from where we were in 2019, which means there are empty seats, which means airlines are scrambling and scrambling to fill them, which means good deals.”

As for finding good deals, Orlando recommended using tools such as Google Flights and Kayak.

Those sites allow you to set up alerts for specific routes and specific days that will let you know when prices drop.

Orlando also said travelers can avoid predictable price jumps by booking tickets before their 21, 14 and seven-day marks.

“When airlines put their tickets on sale, they have different fare rules for each fare class, and very often, they had to have a minimum advanced purchase window,” Orlando said.

For travelers, that means a fare typically goes up 21 days, 14 days and 7 days before the flight takes off, he explained.

“Keep your eye on that three-week timer (or two-week, or one-week) and make sure you’re checking those fares very diligently coming up to that 21-day mark (or 14-day, or 7-day ) because you may miss out on your best chance to grab the lowest fares,” Orlando said.

And flexibility saves, so avoid traveling the day before Thanksgiving, or the Sunday after, to get the best rate.

“If you are willing to fly one or two days off from everybody else, you can save hundreds of dollars,” Orlando said. “The same thing for the Christmas holidays — folks who are willing to fly either before Dec. 20, after Jan. 6, or on Christmas day itself, are going to save a lot of money, compared to the folks who have to fly the 22nd or 23rd.”

Orlando said Thanksgiving will be a cheaper time to travel internationally.

Since most travelers are making their way home for a family meal, the airlines will slash prices to fill their planes flying to Europe or the Caribbean.

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