Budget holiday travel is almost an oxymoron. If you haven’t already planned your end-of-year vacation yet, you may think you’re out of luck — but, that’s not necessarily true. With the boom in ultra-low-cost carriers like Spirit and WOW air, the big-name airlines are working harder than ever to stay competitive. That means there are still last-minute holiday travel deals to be had — if you know how to work the system.
Holiday season or not, flexibility is always the key to finding the best travel deals. Consider flying when other travelers aren’t. This means a few days after the Christmas holiday or New Year’s Day. Flying midweek (say, Tuesday to Tuesday) is a good starting point, as most travelers prefer to build the weekend into their vacations. Also, the first and last flights of the day are often cheaper because, again, no one likes twilight or red-eye flights.
Head North (or Anywhere Cold)
If you’re open-minded about where exactly you should go for your Christmas vacation, consider heading north. More specifically: anywhere with a colder climate. Every able-bodied, holiday-going American and Canadian is flying south to sun, sand, and surf, and every destination in Mexico and the Caribbean is priced accordingly. If you’re willing to pack a few extra layers and brave the cold, non-ski destinations like Montreal and Paris can prove to be a solid budget options for a last-minute vacation.
Hack Your Fares
“Hacker fares” bundle two one-way tickets into a single round-trip itinerary. Often, each ticket is on a different airline (e.g., you’ll fly out on Delta, but return home on JetBlue) as this can be an invaluable tool for the savvy budget traveler. Kayak takes most of the guesswork out of the process by listing hacker fares within its default flight search.
Subscribe to Email Alerts
Many airlines offer the best deals to subscribers of their email alerts. Spirit, for example, sends out great airfare deals almost every week. Sites like Scott’s Cheap Flights, on the other hand, scour the web daily for last-minute and mistake fares that can prove absurdly cheap. A recent deal touted roundtrip flights from San Francisco to Bali for $364 (including tax), when the usual rate is north of $1,000.
You may have already missed out on the absolute best holiday air travel deals. However, the prices are only going up through the end of the year. On average, airfare increases between $4-7 per day after Thanksgiving, according to airfare-analysis app Hopper. So, if you’re ready, pull the trigger now.