Tips for Finding Cheap Christmas Flights

26 November 2021
Tips for Finding Cheap Christmas Flights

The period between Christmas and New Year’s day is typically one of the most expensive times to fly. Because everyone wants to travel at the same time, and airlines only have so many seats, the prices go up–sometimes by as much as 55%!

What is different this year is last-minute deals may pop up throughout the season because while demand for flights is up, purchases are still below normal (aka pre-pandemic times).Here’s what you need to know to buy a cheap ticket for Christmas this year.

Great news for procrastinators

Even though travel intent has been increasing, there is still a gap in actual ticket purchases. According to Hopper, around 2 million people will fly this Christmas, which is double 2020 numbers but only 80% of the travelers in 2019.

Typically, you don’t want to wait until the last minute to book because airline prices go up the closer you get to the date. That’s true of most years, but this year isn’t like most and lately there have been a lot more last-minute fares than in the past.

More importantly, the airlines are striving to maximize their profits by putting butts in seats. Almost consistently, they’re dealing with emptier-than-they’d-like flights by slashing fares closer to the time of departure.

What is ‘last-minute’ this year?

In normal times, airlines increase the fares inside the 21-day window prior to departure because they can get more money out of travelers who have to travel. Those are usually business travelers who will pay the ticket at any price. With business travel at all-time lows, those predictable price jumps may be sidelined this year.

Tips to get a cheap flight this Christmas

If you haven’t already booked your Christmas trip this year, don’t panic. If cheap is your priority:

  1. Go international. International flights are significantly lower this year and with travelers finally allowed back in the US, seats are opening up on the return trips.
  2. Choose different dates. Christmas Eve is on a Friday this year so most people will travel the Wednesday before and return on Sunday. Be flexible with your travel dates and you’ll have more options.
  3. Check premium class. With business travel mostly grounded right now, airlines have some pretty great deals in business class. Prices for a lie-flat seat aren’t much more than you’d pay for regular economy and seats are open.
  4. Fly at odd times. Most people don’t want to do the work to get to the airport at 5 am or 11 pm, but those are the flights that cost less. Fly at unpopular times and you’ll save.
  5. Check alternative airports. If there is another airport within a few hours drive, you can save quite a bit.
  6. Set alerts. Use your favorite fare searching tool (see our list below) to help you hunt for fares and set alerts so you can move quickly when you find one.

Best Sites for Finding Cheap Flights

If finding a cheap plane ticket is your top priority, use the strategies above and both of the following websites:

  • Google flights – let you select up to seven departure and arrival locations at a time, helping you find cheap flights at alternative airports. Using the date grid feature helps you quickly see which days offer the best fares.
    • Cons: Google flights does not show all airlines (like Southwest) and is sometimes guilty of ghosting (showing flights that are not available).
    • See Scott’s recommendations for how to use Google flights.
  • Momondo – a mainstay in the cheap flight community, it searches some online travel agencies not covered by Google flights so it can sometimes unearth fares Google doesn’t show.
    • Cons: Momondo isn’t as good as Google at searching across a range of dates and it can be slower.
    • See Scott’s recommendations for how to use Momondo.

Neither of these sites sells tickets like Kayak or Expedia will, but booking directly with the airline means working directly with them if things go wonky. Plus, you can negotiate without the extra layer of complication when it comes to cancelations and delays.

Other interesting news

Will work for travel – Actress Susan Sarandon shares the early acting jobs she took just to be able to travel.

Holiday travel scams – the FBI says beware of these travel scams during the upcoming holidays.

Baggage tracker – Why AirTags are the ultimate travel gift this holiday season.

Where are you going next year? National Geographic releases its list of top places to go in 2022 for every type of traveler.

Bold change is coming – meet the 8 female entrepreneurs who are changing the travel industry.

Damian Tysdal

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.