Travelers can expect to pay an average of $350 for a "good deal" domestic flight and $795 for international travel this Thanksgiving. Getty Images
Travelers can expect to pay an average of $350 for a "good deal" domestic flight and $795 for international travel this Thanksgiving. Getty Images

What are the cheapest days to fly? The best times to book holiday travel

TripFalcon November 08, 2022

Last Update: 2023-12-28 13:16:34

There’s no place like home for the holidays.

We’ve heard the Carpenters and Perry Como sing it. We’ve seen it in the airport security lines in the days leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The two holidays are some of the busiest travel times of the year. Last year, the Transportation Security Administration screened over 20.2 million people during the holiday travel season. Travel agency Hopper estimates this year to be the most expensive in the last five years for both domestic and international travel. 

Here are some tips that could help you land a better deal on your upcoming travel: 

What are the cheapest days to fly?

Midweek flights are the cheapest. Hopper economist Hayley Berg says Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the most inexpensive days to travel internationally, while Wednesday tends to be the cheapest for domestic travel. 

“The days that other people are less likely to want to travel are always going to be the cheapest days,” Berg says. 

As holiday travel looms, travelers with flexible schedules may look to abnormal travel days to knock off a few dollars.

According to Berg, the cheapest days for Thanksgiving travel this year will be Nov. 21, the Monday before the holiday, or Nov. 24, Thanksgiving Day. This is because most people will be traveling on the weekend before Thanksgiving or the day before, Nov. 23. Choosing the less busy days could yield about $90 in ticket price savings, she says. 

The same can be said about returning flights – most customers are likely to travel on the weekend after Thanksgiving, making Tuesday, Nov. 29 and Wednesday, Nov. 30 the low-cost days to pick.  

When it comes to Christmas, Berg predicts the Monday and Tuesday before the holiday, Dec. 19 and Dec. 20, will be the least expensive. If you’re looking to travel a bit later in the week, you’ll have the most luck on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. 

“You can save about $120 if you can fly on the 19th and the 20th,” Berg says. 

Returning any time during the middle of the week after Christmas will yield the cheapest tickets, Berg says. 

When to book holiday travel

While the common perception is the earlier, the better, Berg says that’s not always the case with travel. 

“The people who are searching (about six weeks out) are pretty flexible – they might book, they might not,” Berg says. “Airlines lower prices around now to incentivize travelers to start booking and then we'll see this surge of people in the next couple of days and weeks who are searching, booking, getting their holiday travel locked down. That will drive prices back up.”

If this time of year seems late to be booking holiday travel, we may have the COVID-19 pandemic to blame. With the uncertainty of social gatherings and travel plans, the window before booking flights is smaller than it was pre-pandemic. This year, people are booking about a week later than normal and people were booking flights only about 10 days out during the pandemic's peak, Berg says. 

“Most people have not booked their holiday travel,” Berg says. “People are planning their trips a little bit too last minute to see some of the lowest prices.”

Hopper’s holiday outlook analysis this year recommended booking by the second week of October for the lowest prices. Mid-September to mid-October is the best time to book for holiday travel. According to Hopper’s analysis of flight habits in 2022, most travelers will pay about $350 for a “good deal domestic Thanksgiving flight,” about 43% higher than last year. 

“If you see a price you're comfortable paying you should absolutely book it because prices are really only going to rise,” Berg says. “That's for both holidays – a lot of people book their Thanksgiving travel, they forget about Christmas for a few weeks, and then they see very high prices.”

What day of the week is best to book flights?

Is it really cheaper to book flights on Tuesdays? We’ve all heard the theories: The best time to book your flight is in the middle of the night, or on a Tuesday, or using a brand new computer or on a private browser. The flight-buying dance isn’t quite as intricate as the rumors make it seem. 

The myth comes from the early days of flight revenue management when airlines manually posted flight fares every week. 

“The team would come in on Monday, they would see how the sales did over the weekend, and if they didn't do well, they would lower the price,” Berg says. “It sometimes takes 12 hours for the fares to become available, so on Tuesday, all the prices would be lower. That used to be true but it's not how airlines manage their inventory and pricing anymore.”

That being said, a recent Expedia report estimated travelers who buy their tickets on Sundays save 5% on domestic flights and as much as 15% on international flights compared to typical Friday prices. 

How far in advance should I book my flight?

The model of holiday travel also applies when booking vacations: purchasing flights eight months in advance may actually end up costing you more. 

“They're probably planning a vacation that is inflexible (that) they're counting on, so they're probably also willing to pay a lot more for that flight to know that it's booked and they have a seat,” Berg says. 

Some of the best times of the year to travel are what Berg calls the “fall shoulder season” in September and October. Booking flights in late August or early September will give you the cheapest deals for shoulder season. 

But January takes the cake as the least expensive month to book flights and travel. January, February and even early March travel booked in the first month of the year will give you the cheapest results as you’re beating the spring break crowd. 

When it comes to booking your stay at a hotel, Berg says you want to wait until the last minute. While flights know travelers scramble to ensure they have a seat to their specific destination, hotels are competing with dozens of residences in an area. 

“A lot of them are going to have empty rooms, so at the last minute hotels actually dropped prices,” Berg says. “If you are flexible enough to wait until you arrive at a destination or head into the city to actually book your hotel, you can typically save an average of 25% off the price you would have paid if you planned it a month or maybe six weeks in advance.”

Source: usatoday