Thanksgiving Travel 1
Passengers walk by a Christmas tree on their way to make a fight a day before the annual Thanksgiving Day holiday at the Salt Lake City international airport. Reuters

Do I book now or do I wait? It’s an age-old question that we all ask when planning our Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s trips. But with the end of September fast approaching, experts say you’ll be hard-pressed to find any more cheap flights in about two week’s time.

“The best bet for the consumer is to travel as early before the actual holiday or as late as possible afterward, and always leave room for schedule changes,” explained Dean Headley, co-author of Wichita State University’s Airline Quality Rating report. “During the past several years, the holiday travel period has continued to be a challenging time for travelers, and with industrywide seat capacity reduction, it will remain a stressful travel experience [this year].”

Travel search engine analyzed “hundreds of millions” of queries preformed on the site last year and discovered that, on average, the cheapest airfares for holiday travel were found between September and mid-October. Procrastinators who wait until the end of October or later to book are likely to find a 17 percent increase for Thanksgiving travel, a 51 percent increase for Christmas travel and a 25 percent increase for New Year’s Eve travel.

“If you miss that mid-October window, we recommend booking as soon as possible,” Kayak spokeswoman Jessica Casano-Antonellis said. “Domestic fares will rarely decrease beyond October, and international flights will see no decrease in fares.”

Those traveling domestically over Thanksgiving may want to consider departing on Monday or Tuesday and returning on Thanksgiving Day, Friday or the following Tuesday. If you do, savings can be as high as 23 percent on the departing leg and 20 percent on the return leg. International travelers, meanwhile, should consider leaving close to or on Thanksgiving Day and returning mid-week the following week.

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. International travelers looking for the cheapest flights may want to consider trips of three to five days in length centered around the holiday.

Similarly, shorter trips centered around New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day (i.e. Dec. 29-Jan. 1 or Dec. 31-Jan. 3) are more than 15 percent cheaper than weeklong getaways for both international and domestic travel.

If you still haven’t picked a destination and are looking for a sweet deal, Casano-Antonellis recommended Toronto. “Toronto was the only popular destination where airfare decreased between 2011 and 2012. Our 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.”

Another way to save big on winter travel is to wait until about a week after the New Year’s festivities have abated. “Our data shows that the month of January was the second cheapest month to fly domestically, with an average fare of $305.70,” Casano-Antonellis said. “We also found that February is one of the cheapest months for international flights, with an average fare of $945.38.”