Everything You Need To Know About Flying During The Holiday Season
Airfare Expert: Last-minute strategies for Christmas flights
You procrastinated on your holiday travel plans. Is your only option paying an astronomical ticket price? Not necessarily, but there is no time to waste. Follow these strategies and you may yet find a deal for a last-minute holiday flight.
1. Look for last-minute sales this week. Last-minute holiday discounting has been scarce in recent years, but airlines are not above dropping in a few price cuts on certain routes where flights aren't completely full yet. These sales won't be great but they're better than nothing; remember that when it comes to holiday travel, your goal is to find the best-of-the-bad deals. Southwest currently has a last-minute sale, but note that it's only good for travel from now through Dec. 25. That may not work for your entire trip but maybe you can fly on at least one of the sale days to reap a bit of savings.
2. Use or barter loyalty miles. If the ticket price is over $450 round trip, you should consider using your loyalty miles or points. Some airlines and credit cards allow a combination of cash and points if you don't have quite enough. Or, if you have a friend who is a mileage hound, maybe you can barter with him/her, as airlines can typically redeem tickets for anyone. Also, many airlines are currently running "buy miles" sales through the end of the year so you can replenish at a discount.
3. Fly on the holiday. Christmas Day (Dec. 25) and New Year's Day (Jan. 1) are usually a lot cheaper than any of the days surrounding these holidays so try to fly then. I used this technique on a late Thanksgiving evening flight and saved our family almost 40%.
4. Get in the car. I'm not suggesting you drive to your destination, just to the next biggest airport. Yes, it's inconvenient but it can save you real money. Over the weekend, I saw prices for Christmas flights to Dallas from smallish Burbank airport for $767 round-trip while prices from huge Los Angeles International cost $683 round-trip. As they say, do the math.
5. Inconvenient flights. Coast-to-coast red-eyes may not be ideal, but that's why the discounts can be so steep. Connecting flights with up to two stops have many more ways to be priced and thus your chances of finding a better deal on such flights are much better. Yes, connecting flights can be a pain in the behind, but when you procrastinate, you pay - one way or the other.
A final thought: Don't check a bag, and not just to save the fee. You'll save time and aggravation too. While it's true that lost bags are becoming rarer, you can't say the same for bad weather and if a storm delays your flight and the airline rep tells you there's a seat on another aircraft if you hurry, a carry-on will make the flight with you. A checked-bag will not.