By: Aly Walansky
First things first: When planning holiday travel, you'll want to focus on the airlines with a good track record over the holidays. And when should you start shopping? "The best time to book Thanksgiving travel is actually August-September," says Jesse Neugarten, founder & CEO of the Dollar Flight Club. "I have tons of data from my subscribers to back that up. I've been sending out deals for Thanksgiving trips all over the world for the past few months already and people have been booking. It's really important to be flexible with dates and look for alternative airports close to your destination, in general," he says.
But if you don't quite know your Thanksgiving plans yet, you DO have a bit of time. Just not that much..."Make sure you book before Halloween!" says Patrick Surry, the chief data scientist for Hopper. "If you wait to book your flight until after Halloween, it will cost you about $1.50 per day you wait, and then prices start rising about $6 per day in the last ten days before departure," says Surry.
Days of week
The sooner the better is the best advice, but don't forget that the day of the week you book makes a difference—it's one of the top 11 tricks travel booking companies use. "The best time to book Thanksgiving travel is on a Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon, specifically around 3 p.m. The more flexible you are with your travel dates, the more likely you are to find cheaper flights," says Mariann Yip, Romio Lifestyle & Travel Expert.
It's great advice for taking the stress out of holiday travel, and it can save you money. Try playing around with the airport you leave from or arrive into. "Remember to check all nearby airports, Dallas has two, NYC has three, particularly if you're renting a car anyway. And check price alerts—join the frequent flyer clubs for those," says Brett Graff, the brains behind The Home Economist. Sometimes by just flying into Fort Lauderdale instead of Miami you can get a much better deal at a less crowded airport.
When to leave
For the serious bargain hunter, traveling on Thanksgiving day is the cheapest option. "The next best option is to depart on Monday of Thanksgiving week and returning on Friday," advises Surry. "You'll save about 20 percent over the most popular dates," says Surry. Do you know the day that will be the most expensive one to fly on this year?
Do your research
When it comes to holiday flights in general, planning ahead is a key to success. "Based on 2016 data, the earlier you start watching flights (not necessarily purchasing, but instead keeping an eye on them!), the better chance you have to score the best deals. You can set up an alert on Hopper so you won't miss a great price," says Surry.
If you are taking the bus...
Those pay to book ahead as well. Bus schedules are released three months at a time. For example, you can start booking your Thanksgiving travel at megabus.com in the next week or two. Ticket prices depend on how in-demand seats are, so the earlier you buy, the cheaper tickets will be.