Home for the holidays? This is the cheapest day for travel economists

There is no better place for the holidays than home.

We’ve heard Carpenters and Perry Como sing. We’ve seen it at airport security lines a few days before Thanksgiving and Christmas.

These two holidays are the busiest travel times of the year. Last year, the Transportation Security Administration screened more than 20.2 million people during the holiday travel season. Travel agency Hopper estimates that this year has been the most expensive year for domestic and international travel in China over the past five years.

The following tips can help you get a better deal on your upcoming trip:

When is the cheapest day to fly?
Midweek flights are cheapest. Hopper economist Hayley Berg said Tuesday and Wednesday were the cheapest days for international travel, while Wednesday tended to be the cheapest day for domestic travel.

“The days when other people are less likely to want to travel are always the cheapest days,” Berg said.

As vacation travel approaches, travelers with flexible schedules may be looking for unusual travel days to shave off a few bucks.

According to Berg, the cheapest days to travel on Thanksgiving this year are Nov. 21, the Monday before the holiday, or Nov. 24, Thanksgiving. That’s because most people will be traveling the weekend before Thanksgiving or the day before November 23rd. Choosing less busy days can save you about $90 in fares, she said.

The same goes for return flights—most customers are likely to travel the weekend after Thanksgiving, so Tuesday, November 29 and Wednesday, November 30 are low-cost days to choose from.

When it comes to Christmas, Berg predicts that the Mondays and Tuesdays before the holiday, December 19 and December 20, will be cheapest. If you’re planning to travel later in the week, you’ll have your best luck on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

“If you can fly on the 19th and 20th, you can save about $120,” Berger said.

Berg said returning any time of the week after Christmas would get the cheapest tickets.

When to book holiday travel
According to Berg, we are in the “sweet spot” when booking holiday travel. Airfare prices for both holidays are relatively low compared to the next few weeks. Most travelers will pay about $350 for “discounted domestic Thanksgiving flights,” about 43 percent higher than last year, according to Hopper’s analysis of flying habits in 2022.

While the prevailing belief is that the sooner the better, Berger says that’s not always the case with travel.

“People searching are very flexible these days – they may or may not book,” Berger said. “Airlines are lowering prices now to incentivize travelers to start booking, and then we’re going to see a lot of people searching, booking, locking in holiday travel over the next few days and weeks. That’s going to drive prices back up.”

If it seems late to book holiday travel at this time of year, we might have the COVID-19 pandemic to blame. Due to uncertainty about social gatherings and travel plans, the window to book a flight is smaller than it was before the pandemic. This year, people were booking about a week later than normal, and at the height of the pandemic, people were only booking flights for about 10 days, Berg said.

“Most people haven’t booked vacation travel yet,” Berger said. “People are planning their trips a little too late at the last minute to see some of the lowest prices.”

Hopper’s holiday outlook analysis for this year suggests bookings for the lowest prices in the second week of October. Mid-September to mid-October is the best time to book holiday travel.

“If you see a price you’re willing to pay, you should definitely book it, because the price really only goes up,” Berger said. “It’s the same for both holidays – when a lot of people book a trip for Thanksgiving, they forget about Christmas for a few weeks, and then they see very high prices.”

What is the best day of the week to book a flight?
Is it really cheap to book a flight on Tuesday? We’ve all heard the theory that the best time to book a flight is in the middle of the night, or Tuesday, or on a brand new computer or private browser. The dance of buying a flight isn’t as complicated as rumors suggest.

This myth comes from the early days of flight revenue management, when airlines manually issued flight fares on a weekly basis.

“The team would come in on Monday and see what the weekend was selling, and if it didn’t do well, they would lower the price,” Berger said. “Sometimes fares take 12 hours to be available, so all fares are lower on Tuesday. That used to be true, but airlines are no longer the way to manage inventory and pricing.”

That being said, a recent report from Expedia estimates that travelers who buy tickets on Sundays can save 5% on domestic flights and up to 15% on international flights compared to typical Friday prices.

How far in advance should I book my flight?
The pattern for vacation travel also applies to booking vacations: buying a flight eight months in advance may actually end up costing more.

“They may be planning an inflexible vacation that they’re counting on, so they may also be willing to pay more for that flight to know it’s booked and they have a seat,” Berger said.

The best time of year to travel is what Berg calls the “fall shoulder season” of September and October. Booking your flight in late August or early September will give you the cheapest deals during the off-season.

But January is the cheapest month to book flights and travel. A trip booked in January, February or even early March will give you the cheapest results in the first month of the year because you’re beating the spring break crowd.

When booking hotel accommodation, you want to wait until the last minute, Berg said. While flights know that travelers are scrambling to ensure they have a seat at a particular destination, hotels are competing with dozens of residences in one area.

“A lot of them will have rooms available, so hotels actually drop prices at the last minute,” Berger said. “If you’re flexible enough to wait until you get to your destination or go into town to actually book a hotel, you can often save an average of 25% if you plan for a month or six. A few weeks in advance.”