FILE - In this Wednesday, 21, 2011, file photo, holiday travelers, including Donald Occimio of Mesa, Ariz., dressed as Santa Claus, and his wife Diane check in with customer service agent Angelee Arciniega, right, for their Southwest Airlines flight at the Terminal 4 ticketing area at Sky Harbor International Airport, in Phoenix. The 2012 Christmas travel season could be the busiest in six years, with AAA predicting that 93.3 million Americans will hit the road. That's 1.6 percent more than last year and just 400,000 people shy of the 2006 record.
Short-sleeve shirts may still occupy a prime spot in your closet, but — ready or not — now is the time to turn your attention to booking holiday flights. “You should be poking around daily, beginning now,” said Tom Parsons of Bestfares.com.
Whether prices will rise or fall remains as mysterious as what gifts will await you under the tree — maybe more so if you’re good at dropping hints (and it doesn’t hurt to start that now, too). But there are a few ways to find more affordable flights, Parsons says.
Check prices for multiple airports; be willing to fly into less-popular Tampa instead of Orlando, for instance.
The big money saver is a willingness to alter travel dates. Fly out on Thanksgiving and return on Monday or Tuesday, Parsons suggested. When we spoke late last week, he checked costs on round-trip flights between the Twin Cities and New York: Fares hovered around $350 for his suggested Thursday-to-Tuesday itinerary, but the price jumped by nearly $100 for departures a day or two before Thanksgiving with a return on Sunday.
Many travel websites such as bestfares.com and airline sites, including Delta’s and Sun Country’s, provide a “flexible dates” search option so travelers can compare costs without wearing out the computer mouse.
Here’s some holiday cheer: Since Christmas and New Year’s fall in the middle of the week, fliers won’t necessarily be clamoring for the same dates. This happy situation could lead to more affordable flights than in years past.
As with most things, from ballet productions to dinners out, you shouldn’t expect airline bargains at the holidays. But fares will fluctuate. When they dip, get out your credit card and let the holiday shopping spree begin.
Send your questions or tips to travel editor Kerri Westenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow her on twitter @kerriwestenberg.