Airline tickets are like real estate: Buy when the price works for your budget, and don’t look back when the market — or the prices — drop.

In June, when I booked my family’s Christmas trip to New Orleans, I thought I was pretty smart. The price, $510 per ticket on Delta (the only airline with nonstop flights), seemed fair, considering it was about what we’d paid for round trips to my husband’s hometown during off-peak times. Plus, buying early got us sweet seats.

When I booked, I assumed the prices would only go up, given that Delta has so little competition on the route.

Then, a news release landed in my e-mail from Dr. Dean Headley, a marketing professor at Wichita State University and co-author of the Airline Quality Report. “Travelers on U.S. airlines during the holidays usually find that ticket prices are higher, but prices have been coming down over the year,” was one nugget buried in the information.

That prompted me to, just for the fun of it, check the current cost of my tickets. Um, it wasn’t fun at all. It had dropped by $120. Unfortunately, Delta’s $200 change fee would have wiped out any savings.

You begin to see the wisdom of not looking back, right?

I spoke to Headley, who has spent years pouring over airline data. Prices for tickets have gone down or stabilized, though that is route-specific, he said.

As for my predicament? “Load management is pretty sophisticated,” he said, referring to airlines’ method of keeping planes full, which can result in maddening price fluctuations. “The airlines always say they will give you the best deal. That is not always true.”

His advice: Buy your holiday tickets now if you haven’t already. Be flexible. Consider using a travel agent to track down deals. Choose flights that depart early in the day; they are less likely to be delayed.

To that, I add: Expect no airline to boost your holiday cheer.


Send your questions or tips to Travel editor Kerri Westenberg at, and follow her on Twitter: @kerriwestenberg.