Article by: Zach Wichter
- Being flexible in your travel dates is the best way to find the best deals on airfare.
- Book early departures to minimize the chance of your flight getting delayed or canceled.
- Take advantage of price tracking tools to help you figure out when to book.
Whether you’re traveling this winter to see family – or to get away from them – now’s the time to start planning that trip. (It’s not too late to book Thanksgiving travel either, but some of the best deals may have already passed.)
Expedia recently released its 2023 Travel Hacks report, and Priceline also came out with tips for booking your winter getaway.
Read on for more details, but the key things to know are that although prices are up this winter, flexibility in your travel days can help save you money, and that booking at least a month in advance for domestic flights is your best bet for the best deals.
Here’s what else the online booking sites found about the best strategies for planning your winter escape:
When to buy your 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 at almost any time. Travelers can set price alerts on many booking platforms and Google Flights. In general, it’s a good idea to book if the numbers seem like a good deal when you check.
That said, according to Expedia, booking at least one month before a domestic flight or six months before an international flight can save travelers 10% on average on the price of their ticket.
The booking platform also says Sunday is the best day of the week to purchase your airfare. According to Expedia data, travelers who buy their tickets on Sunday save 5% on domestic flights and as much as 15% on international flights on average compared to typical Friday prices.
Expedia also offers Price Drop Protection, an add-on that will get you money back if the ticket price goes down after you book. Many airlines also instituted more flexible booking policies in the last few years, which means travelers who book directly with their carrier may be able to cancel and rebook their ticket if the price goes down, keeping the difference as a credit for future travel.
For domestic trips, Google Flights data suggests that the lowest prices tend to be between three weeks and three months ahead of your departure date. The lowest prices average out 44 days, or about 1½ months, before.
International trips will require a bit more time and planning. For trips from the U.S. to Europe, Google Flights suggests erring on the early side – 129 days, or almost five months, ahead will provide the best deals. Try not to book less than 50 days before your trip.
What 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 that depart after 3 p.m. are 50% more likely to get canceled than those that leave earlier.
Leaving on a Wednesday can also save you money, Expedia’s survey shows. According to the data, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays tend to be the most popular (and therefore, most expensive) days to fly, but Wednesday departures are 15% cheaper on average for domestic flights.
How being flexible can help
According to Priceline, flexibility is key when it comes to finding the best deals for travel this winter.
“Lower cost flights and discounts can be found by delaying your return (e.g., by two-five days before or after each holiday),” a statement from Priceline said. “Friday, Dec. 23, will be the busiest day for flights and rental cars, but travelers can avoid the crowded airports, traffic…and save by extending their holiday trips.”
If your travel schedule isn’t dictated by school breaks or visiting family for a specific event, Priceline also says considering less popular weeks can help you keep your costs down. According to the company’s data, the first five days in 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 up this winter, rental car rates are flat for the year, according to Priceline – though they’re 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.