Holiday Travel: How Much To Pay, When To Fly, When To Buy, & Other Travel Insights

Patrick Surry - Jan. 31, 2016

Summary

  • The average domestic roundtrip airfare for the holidays is currently priced at $383, down about $10 (or 3%) from last year at this time. This is a premium of about 75% above non-holiday flights.

  • Unlike Thanksgiving prices, holiday flight prices tend to rise more steadily as Christmas approaches, and then spike in the last ten days.

  • Based on last year's data, on average the best time to book is about 80 days before departure. This year, we've seen some cheaper deals earlier based on deeper sale discounting in September.

  • For every day closer to Christmas, average round-trip holiday airfare goes up about $1.60. But prices move around constantly so it pays to watch for a deal.

  • RECOMMENDATION: Start watching your Christmas trip on Hopper now, and the app will alert you when there's a deal.

  • Demand is still thin for 2015 with people still focused on Thanksgiving, but recent prices have risen quicker than last year.

  • The most expensive days to travel over the holiday period are the weekends after Christmas (Dec 26-27) and New Year (Jan 2-3).

  • Save up to 30% by departing on the Monday before Christmas (Dec 21) or Christmas Eve, and returning on Christmas Day or on or after Tuesday Jan 5th. For example, it's about $28 (6%) cheaper to depart on Christmas day compared to flying on Wed December 23rd, and it's about $133 (26%) cheaper to fly on New Year's day compared to December 26th.

  • For New Year's, traveling on New Year's Eve or New Year's day can save more than 25%

When to Buy Holiday Flights

Flying over the winter holidays is always going to be expensive. In fact, in 2015, you're going to pay about 75% more to fly around the holidays than you would pay on the same route at any other time! But there are still a few ways you can save on airfare this season. The average domestic roundtrip for the holidays is currently about $383, which is down about $10 (or 3%) from last year at this time. So you may see a very small price drop between what you paid last year and what you're paying this year.

Unlike Thanksgiving prices, which tend to start high and remain high as the holiday draws near, Christmas flight prices tend to rise more steadily as Christmas approaches and then spike in the last 10 days. Right now, demand is still pretty low for Christmas flights, but our team found that prices are actually rising faster than in 2014. This means you should consider booking soon.

Based on last year's data, on average the best time to book holiday flights is about 80 days before departure. This year we've seen some cheaper deals earlier based on deeper sale discounting in September. For every day closer to Christmas, average round-trip holiday airfare goes up about $1.60. But prices move around constantly so it pays to watch for a deal. (One way to do that is with the Hopper app, which will alert you when a deal is found, when prices drop, or when prices are about to go up.)

holiday flights

Figure 1: When to Buy Holiday Flights

When to Fly for the Holidays

The most expensive days to travel over the 2015 holiday period are the weekends after Christmas (December 26 and 27) and New Years (January 2 and 3). You can actually save up to 30% by departing on the Monday before Christmas (December 21) or on Christmas Eve and returning on Christmas Day or on or after Tuesday, January 5. For example, it's about $28 (6%) cheaper to depart on Christmas Day compared to flying on Wednesday, December 23. And it's about $133 (or 26%) cheaper to fly on New Year's Day compared to December 26. As for New Years, traveling on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day can save more than 25%.

So, as always, flexibility is key when it comes to saving the most on flights.

holiday datesFigure 2: When to Fly for the Holidays

Biggest Holiday Markups

We compared “good deal" round-trip prices for the holidays to prices earlier in the fall to measure a “Holiday premium." Averaging across all trips to a given origin, we found the most expensive places to fly home for the holidays. For example, a round-trip to Miami for the holidays averages almost three times the price (+182%) of a trip earlier in the fall, even though the relative popularity drops significantly (since Miami is such a big vacation destination at non-holiday times). Note that some of this premium might be due to a different pattern of travel to the destination during the holidays.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 10.46.32 AM

Large destinations with the lowest price premiums:

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About Hopper

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