Q: I’ve read so many times that holiday airfares are much higher this year than last, so I have been afraid even to look. When will be the cheapest days to travel and when are the cheapest days to search for airfares this holiday? Should I wait until the last minute or is it already too late?
A: I’ve read the same reports, and although on average fares are higher this year than last, it doesn’t mean you can’t find a relative bargain.
Last night, I was searching for myself for fares from New York to Orlando leaving the Tuesday before Christmas and returning the Sunday after, which is a peak travel period. The lowest fare I could find was $440 round-trip with tax on nonstop JetBlue flights. But this morning, Delta had the exact same route for $185 with tax.
Call it a Christmas miracle, but the lesson is do not give up hope. You may indeed find a bargain, even at the last minute if the airlines capitulate and lower fares on a few seats.
Here are my top 10 rules for finding travel deals for the holidays:
• Keep looking at least three times a day until you find something good (you have nothing to lose except a few minutes of your time).
• Keep looking; do not be discouraged unnecessarily by the “fare experts.”
• And keep looking. Fares fluctuate throughout the day, and the number of seats at the lowest fare can also change minute by minute.
• Be willing to take inconvenient flight times (6 a.m. departures, red-eyes, etc.) and connecting flights.
• Look at nearby alternate airports (West Palm Beach rather than Miami; Mesa, Ariz., rather than Phoenix). It may be cheaper flying one-way into one airport, and out of a nearby airport.
• Check Southwest.com, Allegiantair.com and Spiritair.com separately (assuming they fly where you’re going); these airlines do not share their fares (or best fares, in the case of Spirit) with third-party sites.
• Travel on Thanksgiving Day and return the Saturday or Monday after, or on Christmas Day and return the Tuesday or Wednesday after.
• Consider a cruise. If you live within four hours’ driving distance of a cruise port, a cruise might cost less than a flight – much less, in some cases. And don’t forget about Amtrak.
• Check out fares to Europe. Ironically, it might be cheaper to fly to London or Paris over the holidays than to Grandma’s house.
• Be sure to sign up for airfare alerts from several fare alert sites, such as Yapta.com, TripAdvisor.com/flights and Airfarewatchdog.com.