BY: TRACY WASH II
Millions of Americans are going through the annual ritual of surfing web sites and sweet talking travel agents to get the best travel deals for the holidays. But the question always remains whether travelers should book flights now or wait for last minute bargains. The short answer is to capitalize on deals as soon as you find them, travel experts say. But with some planning, flexibility and a little luck, you can find bargains throughout the season.
Whether you want to visit the family in Texas for Thanksgiving or sip margaritas at a five star resort on the beach in December, it’s always good to plan way ahead. First, try booking your flight before Dec. 18. This is generally when you can get the best prices on holiday fares.
Erick Cabanban, a student here at Cal State Long Beach says that being prepared for holiday travel is vital. “When you’re traveling the country or going abroad you must fully plan out your trip and start early like a few months in advance because when you procrastinate you left paying big for it.”
Specifically, Kayak.com reports that the cheapest rates have been posted on Dec. 12, 13, 16 and 17 in past years. After these dates, you're likely to pay a pretty penny for travel arrangements.
If you have to book later, try to avoid the two most expensive days to fly: the Sunday before Christmas and New Year's Eve. A good way to monitor fluctuating airfare prices is to use the "fare predictor" option on Kayak or Bing. This feature offers estimates on whether the price of a flight will rise or fall based on past data.
Right now, holiday travel is a bargain compared to last year. The national average for a roundtrip domestic ticket during the Thanksgiving holiday is $327, down 20 percent from last year, according to Bing Travel, Microsoft's travel site.
The average domestic flight during the Christmas season is going for $357, down nearly $50 from a year ago. On Travelocity.com, the lowest available nonstop,roundtrip flight from Chicago to San Diego departing Wednesday, Nov. 25, and returning Sunday, Nov. 29, recently priced at $383, plus tax. But passengers willing to depart Tuesday and return Saturday could find fares as low as $284.
Websites such as Fly.com, Travelzoo.com, Kayak.com and FareCompare.com can also aid in tracking down deals. Tom Parsons, chief executive of BestFares.com, suggests searching for fares on Tuesday mornings, when most discounts are released.
Anyone looking for domestic flights over Christmas should try departing as close to the 25th as possible, Kayak suggested, noting that this saved travelers an average of more than 20 percent last year. Conversely, those departing and returning during the weekends surrounding Christmas will likely encounter fares up to 24 percent higher.
Similarly, shorter trips centered around New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day (Dec. 29-Jan. 1 or Dec. 31-Jan. 3) are more than 15 percent cheaper thanweeklong getaways for both international and domestic travel.
Data also showed that Las Vegas was the most popular destination and also the fifth cheapest among the top 15 destinations. Other cheap top destinations included Orlando, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale and Denver. So, if you decide if you want to travel this holiday season there are a lot of cheap and affordable options.
Holiday travel should never be a hassle, it be should be fun and enjoyable which makes this not a season for procrastinators.