Our Travel Agent Tells Us The Best Time To Buy Flights This Holiday Season

Traveling over the holidays can be a stressful endeavor. After you decide on the destination, you have to book your plane tickets to get there, which can pose a challenge if you're looking for prices that are budget friendly. Plus, it can feel like everybody is trying to book a trip at the same time. This typically means higher prices and longer lines on the actual travel days. A NerdWallet survey estimates that half of all Americans plan on traveling during 2023's holiday season, so you can, once again, expect especially packed airports and highways when the holidays roll around. If you're hoping to save money, particularly on flights, we have some strategic tips for you.

We spoke exclusively with Victoria Fricke, travel agent and founder of luxury travel agency Vic's Vacations, to share some expert advice on booking holiday flights. She revealed insight into how airline's price their tickets, why they might oversell their flights, as well as helpful advice to consider when choosing your method of transportation, and more. Now, we'll share it all with you.

When to book

Fricke's very first recommendation was to book the flight as early as possible. "Pricing could potentially drop, of course, but the reality is the bigger fear should be lower rates selling out," she said. She went on to explain that airlines have different levels of pricing. She said that they start off selling seats at a certain rate for a certain period of time, and once that time passes, they increase those rates to the next level, and that trend continues until the flight sells out. "Simply put, waiting for popular holiday dates causes you to end up paying more for the same seat." She then recommended choosing the flexible fare option if you're concerned about a lower price coming along after you book.

Using sites like Google Flights can also help you compare and find the best prices for your flight. Rather than choosing a single date and looking at different airlines, Fricke suggests looking at different days of the week and being flexible with the date. "There can be a very large spread of pricing over a two to three-day period around the holidays," she explained. "So start with the range you'd like to be gone and play with dates of flights before finalizing hotel/family plans. It could save you quite a bit!"

Why flying is ideal

When you're flying during the holidays, there's always the risk that your flight will be oversold. This is true across airlines. "At the end of the day, airlines are a business and treat bookings as such," Fricke said. "They have to prepare for last-minute cancellations and rather than lose those profits of the three people who might not show up for their flight, they will oversell by a seat or two." She explained that when this happens, if you're willing to give up your seat and take a later flight, you'll be able to get flight credits for future use, which will save you plenty of cash in the long run.

If you waited a little bit too long, and the prices are now steep when you go to book, don't immediately choose to hop on a bus or train or even drive. Fricke explains that there's a reason that people choose flying over driving. "Your time is worth something," she said. "[...] Flying, while more expensive, is typically the fastest and easiest way to travel. That's worth the hefty price tag." She suggested that you consider not only the cost difference between flying and driving, but also everything that driving entails. Will you lose a whole day being on the road? Will you lose sleep? Are you willing to sit, potentially for hours, in traffic? She said to consider all potential frustrations, not just price tags, before making your final choice.