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The ‘ideal booking window’ for holiday airfare is closing, economist says. ‘Travelers are going to miss out’

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If you have yet to purchase your fall and winter holiday travel and are hoping for a bargain airfare, time is running out.

While ticket prices have plateaued in the last two weeks, travel experts expect them to spike soon.

“Travelers are going to miss out on the opportunity to save when they wait too long,” said Hayley Berg, lead economist at Hopper. “That’s why it’s so important to jump on those prices and book now.” 

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Travelers often procrastinate when it comes to booking. In early October, 85% of Hopper app users who intended to book holiday travel had yet to do so, according to a survey of 500 people. Only 15% of users already booked for the holidays.

Decide what your travel plans will be so you can book at the best price quickly. Here’s what to know.

Fares could get much pricier within days

After April, holiday airfares tend to drop and then are volatile until the four-week “ideal booking window” spanning mid-September to mid-October where prices stay constant. “We’re at the end of [that period] now,” said Berg.

Domestic round-trip airfare for Thanksgiving is still around $268 on average, which is what they were about three weeks ago. For Christmas, domestic round-trip flights are still hovering at $400 on average, per Hopper data.

However, after about October 14, prices are likely to consistently get more expensive and travelers will have a more challenging time finding the best deals.

“After this weekend, we’ll see a lot of volatility continue but, on average, prices are going to go up,” said Berg.

While there may be some deals available through the end of October, don’t wait it out if you have set travel dates in mind between commitments such as school or work.

Each day you wait, you could see prices increase. Hopper expects prices to spike about $30 a day for Thanksgiving fares at the last three weeks before the holiday.

“Each day you wait at the last minute for Thanksgiving, you’re adding a significant amount of cost,” said Berg.

In the last few days before Christmas, travelers could see price jumps of about $40 a day, Hopper anticipates.

Air travel passenger picked up at airport during holiday season.
Getty Images

Secure your flight and confirm your seating

Most flights are not entirely sold out — yet. Travelers who don’t book holiday airfares soon may find that many nonstop trips, flights on the most ideal times of the day and most popular dates are gone.

Fares will likely become increasingly competitive as travelers wait, “judging by the number of people traveling this year,” said Elizabeth Ayoola, a personal finance writer at NerdWallet. 

“Those determined to avoid the summer crowds and heat may be planning to travel during the holidays, driving prices up,” said Ayoola.

Take one of the first flights of the day if possible. You’re two times more likely to be affected by flight delays or cancellations after 8:00 a.m., Berg said.

While non-stop flights are often more expensive, they can help travelers bypass the risk of missing connections due to a flight disruption.

Weather and air traffic disruptions last year caused a lot of turmoil for holiday travelers. Given the demand for holiday flights, it’s worth planning with the potential for such delays or cancellations in mind.

Holiday travel numbers are expected to resemble or surpass results from 2019, wrote Phil Dengler, co-founder and head of editorial and marketing of travel site The Vacationer.

Travelers might also look into travel insurance, and brushing up on your rights if your travel plans are interrupted.

While picking your seat can come at an additional cost with most airlines, “ensure you have a seat on your desired flight,” Berg said. It may serve as a peace of mind for travelers.

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