The leaves are falling and the holiday season is just around the corner. I love sharing what I’ve learned over the last decade in online travel to help families book holiday travel. The funny thing is, little has changed since I helped produce seasonal holiday airfare reports for Farecast, now Bing Travel, empowering consumers to know when to buy airfare. There are a few simple tricks that can save you some cash on your holiday travel and I recently shared some of these tips on Q13FOX News in Seattle. As there is never enough time on live TV to cover it all, here’s the link to the video clip and more detail on when to fly and buy holiday airfare:

when to buy holiday airfare Q13FOX

When to Fly:

You will likely find lower domestic holiday airfares for your family if you travel on Thanksgiving day, Christmas day or New Years day. Don’t want to miss any of the action this holiday? You are not alone. Historically, the most expensive itinerary to fly for Thanksgiving is typically leaving the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and returning the Sunday after the holiday.

  • Hip Tip: For Thanksgiving travel, consider taking time off work or school and leave Monday or Tuesday before Thanksgiving, returning Friday or Saturday. No one really gets anything done that week at work anyway, and this strategy could save you hundreds of dollars for a family of four.
  • Hip Tip: For Christmas travel, Consider spending Christmas Eve at home and leave Christmas day for the trip to Grandma’s house. If you have further to travel, or need to make connections, use your favorite site’s flexible dates calendar to search for the right combination of flight times and airports for best fares.

Some other tricks for searching for the best holiday airfares for your family:

  • Don’t forget to look at alternative airports around the city you are visiting. Flying to the San Francisco Bay area? Look at fares into Oakland (OAK) or San Jose (SJC) and compare those to San Francisco (SFO).
  • Time of day matters. Most people don’t want to get up at the crack of dawn, or take a red eye flight. I’ve found our best fares leave early in the morning and also have less weather delays.

When to buy holiday airfare

This is the million dollar question. I have friends who eagerly wait for airlines to release their flights and book them right away. Advanced planning typically pays off when buying airfare for peak-season travel, especially if you have specific flights you want or if you are cashing in miles. Even though I know what I should do, I’m not always good at following my own advice. We typically wait until the last minute to plan our travel, including holidays, which forces me to get more creative and maybe in the process, pay more than I should for airfare. I suspect if you are reading this, you may fall into this camp too. My advice is don’t wait any longer to buy holiday travel because flights are not likely to get any cheaper from here on out. Here’s how to get started:

1. Use flexible date calendars to shop for airfare. This strategy helps me visually plan out our departure and return dates for best savings.

flexible search airfare calendar

2. Cash in your airline miles and companion airfares to offset the cost of expensive seats.  Alaska Airlines is our preferred airline of choice on the West Coast from Seattle and has been for years. We have the Alaska Airlines credit card and we use our annual coach companion vouchers and airline miles to offset peak travel fares to destinations like Hawaii, California and cross-country flights within budget. The Points Guy is a great resource on how you can maximize the use of frequent flier miles, understand important black out dates, and make the most of your points for your preferred airline.

alaska airlines mileage card

3. Sign up for airfare alerts by email. Airfare prices change often. Once you’ve decided on your ideal dates and flights, set an email alert to notify you when prices for your desired itinerary drop. Airfarewatchdog has a great airfare email alert tool.

4. Use mobile apps to book and track flights. My friends will tell you that most of our travel searches start during dinner conversations, where I pull out my mobile device and start searching for travel dates. I typically start with the Expedia app for our family’s travel because I love how easy it is to book a hotel on the go and it comes with me on my trip, telling me if my flight is on time, what gate it departs and notifies me of future travel, gives me directions to the airport, etc. like on our recent trip to London and Paris. [For full disclosure, Expedia is a HTM partner, and I wouldn’t recommend the app if I didn’t like and personally use it.]

expedia app

5. Factor in extra fees to your flight price. Farecompare has a great worldwide baggage fee chart. We just saved a bunch of cash on extra fees on our last trip to Europe by carrying on our luggage.

5. Consider bundling your airfare with hotel. Not planning to stay at grandma’s house for the holidays? If you need a hotel too, compare the cost of booking airfare and hotel alone, or if booked together in a package. Vacation packages like Expedia’s could save you a bundle.

expedia vacation package deals

If it seems like a lot of work shopping for airfare, it is. You can skip all this and have a trusted travel agent do the heavy lifting for you. But if you are like me, and you enjoy the hunt for a great deal, try any or all of these strategies to book your airfare this holiday. Want more advice? Do a quick Google search on when to buy airfare to see what other experts are saying about the current holiday season.

Save the date for Cyber Monday, Nov. 30, 2013

If you are holding out to score a great deal on a winter getaway, save the date for Cyber Monday, Nov 30, 2013 to pounce on some hot travel deals. Hotels, airlines and other travel companies will be pushing out some limited time offers through their mobile apps and online so be ready to score some killer deals for 2014 travel.

It’s all part of the greater mission to help you save and raise a #welltraveledfamily.

What are your tips for saving money on holiday travel? 

Disclosure: The sites and apps listed here are my go-tos for booking my own travel and would not recommend them if I didn’t find value in using them. We have partnerships with Expedia and Alaska Airlines, but were not compensated or required to express any opinions about these services in this post. As always, the opinions here are our own.

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