It's Not Too Late to Book a Christmas Air Deal

Air traffic and prices are up this holiday season, but there is good news for those who have not yet booked their plane tickets: After examining December bookings, some airlines are filling seats on low-demand flights by decreasing fares.

The average roundtrip airfare around Christmas has been estimated between $421 and $444 by online travel agencies such as Priceline and Travelocity, a five percent increase from last year. However, if travelers act fast they may be able to hit a sweet spot and find a great deal on holiday air travel.

According to Expedia analysis, procrastinators have until December 13th to snag a flight deal for Christmas and New Year's travel. Ticket prices for this time peaked in November, when travelers were beginning to feel the holiday spirit and started rushing to book. Recently, these fares have begun to drop slightly.

Most bottom-dollar fares are no longer available, but Expedia said travelers who book from now until mid-December could save between 10 and 20 percent off peak fares. This is especially true at airports with high airline competition, such as New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Orlando.

Over the past week, many airlines have gone ahead and announced winter fare sales, with some carriers offering discount dates that fall between the Christmas and New Year's holidays. Southwest still has some $59, one-way flights that fall during this period up for grabs-but their sale ends December 13th and seats are filling up fast. Virgin America has tickets for as low as $39 on short-haul flights or $109 on cross-country flights, but the sale only lasts through December 6th.

If willing to travel on Christmas Day, airlines are gifting travelers with cheaper rates than the surrounding dates. Since most people prefer to be at their destination instead of in the sky on Christmas, it is considered an off-peak travel day. Spending part of your holiday at the airport might not sound ideal, but if looking to save some money you could still spend Christmas morning at your destination and then fly out after dinner.

Travelers who are really flexible with their plans will be able to save the most. Trips that start on Christmas Day and then return home the following Tuesday are some of the cheapest available, with an average roundtrip fare of $351 according to Travelocity senior editor Genevieve Shaw Brown. In contrast, flight plans with a return flight on Sunday or that depart on Christmas Eve will end up costing travelers the most.

If all else fails and affordable fares are just not in the cards this holiday season, consider shifting your holiday. Plan to spend Christmas Day at home and visit family the week before Christmas or the week after New Year's. These travel periods are known "dead weeks" in the travel industry because practically no one is in the sky. According to American Express, around 13 percent of travelers have taken to the idea of traveling on off-peak days to save money this year.

On the bright side, finding accommodation should not be a problem if you are looking to avoid staying at the in-laws'. Although resorts are booked solid around Christmas, business hotels are struggling to fill rooms and offering amazing deals. After some research, you could even grab a first class hotel at a second rate price.

If looking for more travel tips to prepare you for the next few weeks, check out our Holiday Air Travel 101 guide.

Photo, miamism, flickr.
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