Everyone keeps asking me how they can find cheap holiday flights. I feel like saying, “don’t you remember what I told you last year and the year before?” Strategies don’t change that much—just the dates. Instead of losing my voice and temper, I updated this guide.
For starters, the airlines are expecting full flights again this year thanks to the reduced capacity issues. The holiday crunch period is going to be December 21 through January 6. But don’t sweat—if you haven’t bought your tickets yet you’ll be happy to know that I have a few tricks up my sleeve. Here are 10 ways to find cheap holiday flights:
1. Be flexible
The key to finding cheap holiday flights is to be flexible with your days. If you aren’t flexible, then you aren’t going to get a deal and you can stop reading right now. It’s not that difficult to figure out that the most expensive time to fly is when everyone else is too. This year Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on Wednesdays so most people will likely take Monday and Tuesday off. That means the Friday and Saturday before each holiday will be the busiest travel days. So you aren’t going to get a deal on those days so you can just stop trying right now.
The best fares for Christmas are going to be the Monday through Thursday the week before (depending on the destination), Christmas Eve and returning on New Year’s Eve or after January 6. To prove my point I ran a flexible search on ITA Software (below) for a round-trip flights from New York to Miami and you can see which days are the cheapest to travel.
2. Consider the time of day
Everyone wants to leave after work and school so when doing your flight search don’t put a specific time. Generally, the most expensive times to fly are peak business travel hours (8 to 10 am and 5 to 7 pm). Cheaper seats tend to depart early in the morning (5 to 7 am) or late in the evening (after 8 pm). NOTE: By leaving early in the morning you have the best chance of not getting delayed.
3. Alternate airports
Not only do you want to be flexible with dates and times but be flexible with airports too. For example, rather than flying into (or out of) Miami when going to South Florida, check out Fort Lauderdale Airport (FLL)—it’s 25 miles north and usually much cheaper. You can also check out West Palm Beach, which is another 49 miles away. To help you with all the major U.S. alternative airports (by actual driving miles), I created a website called AlternateAirports.com. To see what I’m talking about, see the flexible search for flights from NYC to FLL below.
4. Consider making a stop
Sometimes booking a flight that has a connection as opposed to flying nonstop can save you money. But you have to ask yourself if it’s really worth it. If it’s hundreds of dollars then yes, but if it’s just $20 do you really want to increase your chances of getting delayed or stuck? And be sure to avoid making connections in airports that have a terrible on-time track record like San Francisco, Chicago O’Hare or all of New York’s airports. Here’s a link to an airport and airline scorecard to help you make a good decision.
5. Search tools
Everyone knows there’s not one website out there that has the absolute cheapest price for airfares, hotels, car rentals, cruises and package deals so the trick is to do your research and check them all to see who has the best deal at that moment in time. That’s one of the reasons I created JohnnyJet.com to begin with.
We now have a search engine (below) where all you have to do is input your city pairs and dates and click check rates. Six windows will open up as they simultaneously search a variety of travel websites like Expedia, Priceline and TripAdvisor. It not only saves you time but money. Check it out for yourself!
6. Sign up for flight alerts
If you don’t want to constantly manually check airfares (I like do) then sign up for fare alerts. Many sites offer this service for free including Airfarewatchdog.com, Kayak, Yapta.com and FareCompare.com. Here’s a chart that compares the leading airfare alert sites.
7. Speak to a human
You never know if an airline representative can find a better deal but in my experience, it’s usually only worth it (most charge a $25 fee) when booking a mileage award ticket since they can check partner airlines and alternate cities much quicker. To get in touch with your airline I created AirlineNumbers.com that lists all of the airline’s phone numbers and websites. To bypass the airlines’ annoying and time consuming automated prompts, log on to GetHuman.com.
8. Use frequent flier miles
It’s almost impossible to use your frequent flier miles during the holidays unless you are flexible with dates or are willing to use double or triple the usual amount. However, if you have a credit card that doesn’t have blackout dates like the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, you can use their miles (points) towards your tickets/hotel/car/etc.! There are a couple credit cards currently offering big bonuses—like 50,000 miles! Here’s a list of some of the best.
9. Hidden cities
This hidden city trick is against airline policy so you didn’t learn it from me. But—once I needed to get to Cleveland from L.A. and a nonstop one-way ticket was $600. I took my own advice and searched alternate airports and when I found a ticket to Buffalo for only $230 I noticed the flight first stops in Cleveland ON THAT SAME EXACT $600 flight. I know it makes no sense since Buffalo is farther from Cleveland and you have to take two flights instead of one but that’s the airlines for you.
If I wanted to break airline policy I could’ve just gotten off in Cleveland and let my connecting ticket to BUF go to waste. But if I did that I would’ve bought a one-way ticket, made sure not to check bags or put in my mileage account number. Remember I’m not recommending this and if you do it a lot you WILL get caught.
10. Consult a travel agent
As you can see, bargain hunting can be a time-consuming process but it can pay off big time especially if you are traveling with multiple people. If you don’t want to spend the time and energy then call a travel agent and pay their fee, which can be $25 or more. I check with mine but usually only on international flights since sometimes he has different inventory than the travel sites. To give you an example, once I was flying from London to Bangkok and everything I was finding online was over $1,000. I called my travel agent and he found a flight on Etihad through Abu Dhabi for $550. It was well worth the $25 fee.
So there you have it…I feel like you have just turned me upside down and shook all the tricks out of me. I hope this guide helps you find cheap holiday flights and more importantly, motivates you to spend the holidays with the ones you love.
To a happy and safe holiday!