Is it too soon to think about Christmas? If you’re planning to escape abroad, the common wisdom is that it’s actually too late. But don’t worry, says Jack Sheldon, our resident flight expert who runs Jack’s Flight Club – now’s the cheapest time to book.
When to book
Most travellers assume that booking a flight over the Christmas holidays is best done as far in advance as possible, but this is a common misconception that the airline industry loves to peddle. Airlines factor in the high demand for flights over this peak holiday period in advance, and price them high to begin with.
They’ll then monitor seat availability for these flights throughout the year and, at which point they feel seats are undersold, they’ll do a short, unannounced ‘flash sale’ (though it won’t be billed as such, and will be completely under the radar) in order to catch up to their projections. These flash sales can occur throughout the year, but most often you’ll see them closer to the holiday season – typically throughout October and early November.
Last week, for example, United Airlines and British Airways both briefly dropped their Christmas period fares from the UK to various US cities by nearly 50 per cent, then raised them back up within 48 hours – presumably after they’d sold enough seats. These secretive flash sales are the absolute best opportunity to grab your Christmas holiday flights and save big. So be ready.
But don’t look on a weekend
While browsing on a Saturday or a Sunday may be more convenient, I recommend searching for flights during the week as you’re much more likely to stumble upon a cheaper fare or a flash sale and avoid paying over the odds. Tuesdays are known in the industry as the best day of the week to look for flights from the UK. If it’s Monday and you’ve found a decent fare, it might be worth waiting an extra day to see if it’ll pop up even lower on Tuesday morning.
How to find the best deal
Searching for the best deals can be cumbersome, but there are a few handy tools that can make the process a lot easier for those without much extra time on their hands. For long-haul trips, I recommend starting every search with Google Flights – it has the absolute best calendar tool out there for helping you find the cheapest travel dates. If you’re looking to travel to a specific destination for two weeks over Christmas, say, it’ll immediately show the cheapest dates that you should depart and return.
For example, travelling from 19 December to 2 January might be significantly cheaper than from 21 December to 4 January. Google Flights makes it easy to immediately identify which dates are going to save you money.
But bear in mind…
It’s important to note that Google Flights only compares prices available from the airlines themselves rather than from online travel agents (OTAs) and, with few exceptions, the best deals on major airlines are seldom found by booking directly through the airline itself. If you’re after maximising savings, booking with an OTA is the way to go. The problem is, there are literally hundreds of OTAs out there – from massive ones such as Expedia to tiny ones that most people won’t have ever heard of. The best way to sift through all of these options in a single search is by taking your chosen travel dates and entering them into a OTA aggregator, such as Kayak or Momondo, which will instantly highlight those OTAs offering the best fare based on the specific flight you’ve identified in Google Flights. And yes, you can trust OTAs listed on major sites – just be aware that they’ll charge heavy fees if you need to make a change to your reservation.
Chance it till the last minute
If you’re not too fussed about the destination and just want to grab a cheap getaway over Christmas, consider waiting until the absolute last minute and booking with Thomson. Unlike almost all other airlines, Thomson bucks the trend and tries to fill their leftover seats at a substantial discount to last-minute travellers rather than adding on a premium as other airlines often do.
Search their website two to seven days before travelling and you’ll often unearth a gem, even over Christmas. Last year, I spotted some seats on flights to the Caribbean over Christmas for under £300 return.
Consider neighbouring airports
Flying out of or into airports near your destination can often result in big savings. Keen to visit New York City over Christmas? Look out for options to nearby hubs like Boston or Philadelphia. The savings can well exceed the price of the additional train ticket it’ll take to get to your destination and, this way, you can even tack on a ‘bonus’ destination if said airport happens to be somewhere of interest.