On Oct. 13th, the cheapest round-trip flight to take me home for the holidays was $498 per person. When I finally booked on Nov. 6th the cheapest option was $607 per person. And if I had waited to book until today, the “cheap holiday flight” would be $755 per person.
That’s right. The price of the exact same trip went up over $250 in under two months.
How? Why? What gives them the right??? These are all valid questions for an informed consumer. Because it just doesn’t make sense how the same purchase’s price could rise and fall at random like that.
I mean, if the price of a MacBook was yo-yoing on a daily basis like that I would loathe my friend who scored one for $500, the day after I bought mine at full price. But it just wouldn’t happen. Because flights are not MacBooks. And because Apple products are never discounted.
If you booked a flight back north/south/east/west for the holidays, you too may be boggled by the fluctuation in flight prices. And if you haven’t yet but plan to, you need to get on it ASAP.
Because, despite the fact there is little method to the madness that is the flight rate structure, we still have to play the airline’s game. And as with any other competition, we want to come out victorious.
Though I ultimately ended up paying over $100 more for my flight than I would have if I had booked a month earlier, I still consider that a win with what the prices are now. And what I learned during the process will help me take home the gold in the “Cheapest Holiday Flyer” games next year.
It might even help you this year if you act fast.
So please, take a seat and make sure your laptop is in its full upright position.
This is going to be a bumpy confusing ride.
6 Tips For Getting A Cheap Holiday Flight
1. Get. On. It. Early.
The lowest prices for domestic airfares will be found eight weeks before your departure date, according to a new study by the Airlines Reporting Corporation.
Well, that was the end of the October. So this year’s ship has sailed. It is probably in Fiji by now.
But, knowing that, you also know there is no time like the present, as prices will only get higher and higher each day now until the holidays.
2. Have a go to aggregator.
My favorite cheap flight aggregation website is Kayak.com. In fact, I used Kayak’s flight price alert tool to check the new price on my flight each day until I finally pulled the trigger.
Some would say going to one website to try and find the best deal isn’t the best way to do it, but that is not what I am telling you to do. I am telling you to go to ONE website that pulls flights from MANY websites. Who wants to check Expedia, Priceline, and whatever that other one is all day when you can check one that pulls all of them.
And while the alerts system is great, you don’t wanna get bogged down in alerts coming at you from multiple websites all day. You have a life.
3. Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.
So I knew from the beginning I was probably going to be flying United, because they tend to have the most convenient flights in and out of Dulles (my hometown airport), so holding seats when I saw a good deal wasn’t an option. Because United doesn’t let you do it for free. You can do it. But there is a fee.
But most airlines will let you hold tickets for free (or a fare) for up to 24 hours without purchasing them. If you are willing to pay the fee to see if, come tomorrow, that flight is still the one for you, then great.
But if you aren’t one of those people, knowing about this “holding” system is still important. Why? Because when people are holding seats, it will make that plane you are looking at appear fuller than it is.
So check back often and be ready to grab what you want when you see it.
4. Track the system.
I didn’t just read the alerts I got from Kayak every day to see the current price of the flight I wanted. I put those alerts to good use by making a chart of both the date and current flight price. That chart helped me to see the crazy even better. But it also helped me see patterns I wouldn’t have if I was just checking in on a daily basis.
Though there weren’t solid predictable patterns I did note that the beginning and ending of the month seemed to be when the flight prices were lowest, and that when the price dropped significantly (more than $80) it was going to go back up very soon. So buy, buy, buy!
5. Go with the flow.
Will you drive to an airport an hour out of your way, instead of the one 20 minutes from your house to score a cheap holiday flight? Will your parents pick you up at the airport at 4 a.m. if it means you can afford to come?
If so you can snag some sweet deals, as not everyone is as flexible about which airports they fly in/out of and the days/times they depart and arrive.
Just make sure you are fully committed to this plan and capable of coordinating your sleep schedule. Because hitting snooze on the day you have to roll out of bed at 2:00 a.m. to drive an hour to the airport, would be a very pricey mistake.
6. Spend part of your holiday in the air.
Do you mind not getting to baggage claim until right around the time Santa is coming down the chimney? Because, flying on the holiday itself (be it Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or New Year’s Eve) will give you a lot more green to spend on presents.
Not to mention legroom, as those planes will be less crowded, since most people won’t give up that precious time with loved ones.
If you are not one of those people, this is by far your best way to get a cheap holiday flight.
So this is what I know and what I can offer you on your journey to find a cheap holiday flight home this year. And hopefully an even cheaper one next year.