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Still settling on holiday plans? If you’re taking time off this December to visit loved ones across the country or enjoy an escape from winter weather, don’t hesitate much longer to book your airfare.
An analysis by flight-tracking website Hopper found that last year’s best deals on holiday flights occurred mid-October, and booking the week of Oct. 15 this year can save you up to 25 percent off peak fares.
Don’t stop there, though. Here are some additional ways to save on holiday flights this year.
1. Apply for a travel credit card
The holidays can be the best time to take advantage of generous credit card sign-up bonuses. It may take months for you to receive the bonus, but using your new card to purchase your airfare can help you chip away at the spending requirements.
If you’re not partial to a particular airline and plan to travel more throughout the year, the Discover It Miles Card offers the best first year bonus. Discover will match every mile you collect on the card (on any airline) at the end of your first year.
If you’re traveling with a partner or family, Alaska Airline Visa Signature Card may be your best bet. This card’s BOGO deal allows you to buy a plane ticket and get another one for free (taxes and fees not included).
“Choose a travel rewards card that offers both bonus points on travel spend and solid protections like trip delay insurance and baggage delay insurance,” she says.
2. Use points you already have
If you’re already a dedicated travel points aficionado, consider using the miles you’ve racked up throughout the year for your holiday flights.
Because this can be the most expensive season to travel within the U.S., compare to see if the value of your points are worth cashing in, especially if you have the flexibility to work around any blackout dates specified by your carrier.
A few days of diligently checking for flash deals could pay off too, especially if your holiday plans involve international travel, but you’ll want to spend some time tracking flights before you decide to book.
3. Check alternative airports
Are you flying to a large city with multiple airports? Look into the distance between your destination and smaller or regional airports rather than the city’s go-to hub.
Checking out different airports could be advantageous in your search for low airfare, especially if you can find a direct route between your home and the destination. Plus, since most people will choose to fly through the larger hubs, you may bypass the biggest crowds by flying to an alternative airport.
4. Try a budget airline
We’ve all heard horror stories about exorbitant luggage fees and nonexistent leg room, but budget airlines often offer unbeatable prices on domestic flights. Similar to going a bit out of your way to fly to a smaller airport, you may decide that putting up with a few hours of discomfort is worth the dollars you’ll save.
If you have a flexible schedule and a light suitcase, budget airlines often offer the best prices (even on direct flights) for short trips.
5. Scour travel sites and apps
Unless your miles or points are tied to a certain airline or portal, your search for holiday travel deals should begin on your favorite discount sites and apps. You can track the flights you want and browse competitive prices on surrounding dates and times if you have a somewhat flexible schedule.
In addition to sites like Google Flights and Kayak, flight-tracking apps offered by Hopper and Skyscanner can help you score a holiday travel deal.
6. Book an early morning or late night flight
While you’re searching for the best holiday flight deals, don’t discount tried-and-true booking tricks.
Generally, it can pay to travel at times when most people would rather be at home asleep. This means that dreaded 6 a.m. flight or 11 p.m. redeye could save you big bucks (even if you may have to take some recovery time once you reach your destination).
7. Prepare for weather delays
December is notoriously finicky when it comes to delayed and canceled flights, especially if you’re flying to or from a busy airport or anywhere with a winter weather forecast.
To minimize your chances of delay, choose direct flights whenever possible. You don’t want to have worry about weather or any other unexpected mishaps in additional cities. Running to catch a connecting flight is stress-inducing at any time, but it only increases tenfold during the high-traffic holiday season.
Sometimes, though, delays are unavoidable. In that case, “having a credit card that offers airport lounge access, like the Platinum Card from American Express, can make crowded airports a bit more bearable during the holidays,” Silbert says.
8. Be flexible
One way to save money on holiday season airfare is to be flexible.
The days you want to travel are probably going to the be same days as everyone else who wants to maximize long weekends and use as few vacation days as possible.
Because Christmas falls on a Tuesday this year, many Americans will be looking at Friday, Dec. 21 as their travel day. Hipmunk forecasts that this will be the most expensive day to fly. If you can shift your schedule a bit, you may be able to save a substantial percentage on your booking.
Hopper predicts that booking your departure for Tuesday, Dec. 18 and returning on either Thursday, Dec. 27 or Thursday, Jan. 4 will save you the most money compared with other days in late December and into the new year.
If you celebrate another holiday or simply don’t mind flying on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, those are the days when you’ll score the biggest savings. Hipmunk found that booking your travel for Christmas Day can save 20 percent off peak prices.
By maintaining a flexible schedule as you search for holiday flights, “you should be able to find slightly lower fares and may experience less crowds and travel-related delays,” Silbert says.
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