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As it is now less than two months until Christmas and less than one month until Thanksgiving, it is time to get serious about booking holiday travel if you are a procrastinator who has been putting off that task. While weekends in the summer are actually busier days to fly than the Thanksgiving and Winter/Christmas holidays, those dates are still plenty busy enough to cause ticket prices to jump and award availability to tighten.
In fact, the data seems to hold up year after year that the longer you wait to buy holiday travel tickets the more you end up paying. If you are flying on miles the patterns aren’t as clear-cut since you can get lucky at the last minute with improved award availability on flights that didn’t sell-out, but I’m not one to leave holiday family travel to chance.
Here are four tips to save money on holiday travel and use miles and points as much as possible in case you don’t already have all of your tickets secured.
Award Seats are Still There if You Have Flexibility (or luck)
Don’t just believe the “miles are worthless” statements and assume you can’t use miles to fly during the holidays, because you likely can, even with programs that have a limited number of award seats available. The catch is that the peak travel dates may not have saver award availability, so you may have to spend more miles to get the flights you want.
If you aren’t willing or able to spend the miles required to book the “standard” or “anytime” economy awards to travel on the peak travel dates, then look at traveling on the actual holiday dates or other surrounding lesser peak days as shown on this graphic from cheapair.com to potentially save miles or cash. On Thanksgiving week that probably means avoiding the day before Thanksgiving as well as the Sunday following Thanksgiving.
In addition to looking at lesser peak dates, consider flying in first class. Yes, you read that correctly; you can sometimes save miles by looking to fly first class. As shown below, sometimes you will find the first class saver award rates to be the same or occasionally even less than the available coach award rates during some busy holiday travel periods.
Use Programs That Have No Blackout Dates or Fixed Value Points
If you aren’t able to find something that will work for you using traditional airline award programs, consider using a program that doesn’t have blackout dates and instead ties the points price more closely with the selling price of the ticket, such as via Southwest Rapid Rewards. You may spend a hefty number of points for flights that have a high selling price, but you will be able to get an award seat as long as seats are for sale with cash.
Split Up The Family
If you are looking for multiple seats for your family of 4, or 6, or more, you may not have success finding the availability you seek. However, if you divide the group up in some way you may have more luck. You don’t even necessarily have to fly on different flights, but perhaps use miles for some of your group and then purchase tickets with cash for the others. Or perhaps you can find two seats in first class and then two in economy on the same flight using miles. In other words, be creative when you are checking availability for a whole family if you are finding what you need on the first try.
Search for Flights in Multiple Places
If you are looking to spend dollars instead of cash for your flights there really is no longer one website you can use that will search all airlines for you in one quick click. This means not only will you want to use aggregators like Hipmunk.com, Google Flights, etc. but you will also want to take the time to check some airline sites, such as Southwest, directly to be sure you are able to find the best deal possible.
Don’t Forget Bag Fees and Other Charges
When you are assessing your best and most cost effective flight options also make sure to factor in charges for checked bags, assigned seats, etc. if your family will need to make use of such options. If you have elite status or a credit card that will waive some of these fees for you then make sure to account for that when deciding which flight is the most economical and convenient overall. If you need assigned seats and travel with lots of baggage that cheap Spirit flight may end up costing you more than the higher priced United flight where you can get carry-on bags and assigned seats for free, and can get some free checked bags just by having and using the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card.
Hopefully with these tips your flights will be affordable and you can sit back and enjoy the ride…at least until you land and get to navigate the busy airports, fun-tastic extended family dynamics, holiday traffic, and more.
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.