For the past two years, Covid put the kibosh on holiday travelers. Now those eagerly planning to travel for Thanksgiving and Christmas are in for sticker shock.
Airfare prices will be the highest they’ve been in five years, and they’ll only get more costly the longer you drag your feet on booking.
For Thanksgiving travel, domestic airfare will run $350 for an average round-trip, up 22% compared with 2019 and 43% higher than last year, according to a new report by Hopper, a travel app. International airfare will hit $795 on average for a round-trip, up 25% from 2019, and a jump of 41% over 2021.
If you’re preparing to travel over the Christmas holidays, you’ll need to up the ante. Domestic airfare will average $463 round-trip, up 31% compared with 2019, and 39% higher than last year. International airfare is likely to be $1,300 on average round-trip, up 26% versus 2019.
“Factors, including higher jet fuel prices, fewer flights scheduled and limited airline capacity compared to 2019, and two years of pent-up holiday travel demand, are contributing to higher Thanksgiving and Christmas airfares,” Hopper Senior Economist Andrew Heritage told Yahoo Money.
But few people are blinking at the heftier tab. More than half of Americans intend to travel for the holidays this year, with 70% of travelers planning to visit family and friends, according to Hopper data. They should also be ready for bumpy travel in addition to higher prices.
Here’s what to know.
Delays and cancellations aren’t going away
The main cause for the flight disruptions has been a staff shortage for many of the airlines and that is likely to continue.
“U.S. airlines have launched aggressive hiring campaigns to meet this demand,” Hannah Walden, a spokesperson for the trade association Airlines for America, told Yahoo Money. “But the rebound in demand for air travel has been rapid—quicker than most industry experts and analysts ever predicted. Flight schedules for September and October have been reduced by 15% compared to pre-pandemic levels.”
The lessons from the summer debacle may have sunk in and airlines could be better prepared to handle issues, according to Laurie Garrow, president of AGIFORS, a nonprofit that conducts airline research and a professor in the Civil Engineering department at Georgia Institute of Technology, told Yahoo Money.
“As we head into the holiday season, I would say we've learned a lot from the summer,” Garrow said. “We have seen that many airlines have cut back on the number of flights, but really they're holding more planes in reserve in case things go wrong so they have more in backup and if things go wrong in the systems and they encounter delays, they're better able to respond to that.”
“I'm hopeful there will be fewer delays and cancellations, but one of the things that's always challenging is if the weather hits, then all bets are off,” Garrow added.
How to shop for fares this holiday season
Use a price tracker to monitor prices early, Clint Henderson, managing editor at The Points Guy, told Yahoo Money. Free price tracking tools include Hopper’s price prediction, Scott’s Cheap Flights, KAYAK’s price alerts, and Google Flights.
“If you’re planning holiday travel right now, you should be setting alerts for the routes you want to take,” Henderson said. “And if you can be flexible with the dates even better, because you're likely to get a better deal. Set up alerts that monitor these flights each day.”
Savings using the Hopper app, for example, could come to $60 to $80 off domestic flights and $120 off $195 off international flights, according to Heritage.
When to book, when to travel
Timing your travel is what it’s all about.
“For Thanksgiving, flying on Monday, November 21 or Thanksgiving Day will be the cheapest days to depart,” Heritage said. “Returning the week after Thanksgiving on Tuesday November 29 or Wednesday November 30 should also offer more discounts. Avoid returning Saturday, November 26 or Sunday, November 27. They will be the most expensive days.”
For Christmas, travelers can save off peak prices by departing the Monday or Tuesday before Christmas, or even departing on Christmas Eve.
“Avoid flying out Thursday December 22nd or Friday December 23rd — those will be the most expensive travel days,” Heritage said.
Returning the Tuesday or Wednesday after Christmas Day could save you $40 per ticket, according to Heritage. Steer clear of returning on Monday, December 26, New Year’s Day, or January 2 as those dates will be the highest priced returns, he said. “And extending your trip to January 3 can probably save you 20% off domestic airfares.”
How long can you wait it out?
“If you don't see a deal by the week of October 10 for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, lock in those prices because they are only going to go higher from there,” Henderson said.
More expert advice for smooth holiday travel
Download your carrier’s app
Throughout the pandemic, carriers have “expedited the rollout of touchless technologies, including enhancements to smartphone applications,” Walden said. “We strongly encourage all passengers to download their carrier’s mobile app, which is the best way for carriers to communicate directly with passengers. These apps also serve as a one-stop location to easily access information and updates for your flight – gate information, flight status, baggage tracking, automatic rebooking and more.”
Use points and miles you’ve been hoarding
They're not going to get any more valuable, Henderson said. “If you can use them for peak holiday dates, you're going to get maximum value from those points and miles.”
Check fares to and from alternative airports
If you're heading to San Francisco's East Bay area, check the prices at San Francisco airport because usually you're going to pay less to fly into this SFO over the Oakland airport, Henderson said. “Also look to see if the smaller regional airport that's still drivable for you is cheaper than the bigger airport or vice versa.”
Overseas travelers, be patient
“If you’re traveling to Europe over the holidays, then I would be prepared to expect delays and possibly cancellations,” Garrow said. “That’s because many of the airports including London’s Heathrow, and Paris’s Charles De Gaulle, for example, are struggling with airport staffing issues. They’re telling carriers, ‘this is the max we can bring in’ often with little notice.”
Book an early flight
Finally, to avoid delays and cancellations it's always recommended to book the first flight out in the morning. Early flights are less likely to take delays or cancellations than flights in the afternoon. And if you have a flight connection and a choice between a one-hour connection and three-hour connection, take the three.
“Just give yourself some extra room and less stress.” Garrow said.
Kerry is a Senior Columnist and Senior Reporter at Yahoo Money. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon