The best times to book air travel for the winter holidays

Going home for the holidays can be hectic — especially if a flight is involved. Ticket fees often surge for flights around Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the actual airport can feel straight out of a scene from Home Alone. While some overeager travelers may have booked Thanksgiving plans way before Memorial Day, other procrastinators may be biting their nails as fares appear to rise every minute we get closer to seeing turkeys in every grocery store.

To prevent you from booking flights too soon or too late, we asked Kayak for exclusive data on the best times to book your holiday travel, based on fare trends in economy class from the last holiday season.

Book before Nov. 11

According to Kayak’s internal data, median airfare for domestic holiday travel ranging from Nov. 18 to Jan. 3 starts to increase after Nov. 11. So if you’re eyeing fares throughout the fall, make a move before this day.

If you’re flying from the Southwest...

Travelers departing from Southwestern states for the holidays should be patient. Historically, Kayak has seen median airfare start to decrease after Aug. 16, so keep an eye on that good flight deal, but know that prices will likely go down.

If you’re flying from the Southeast or Northeast...

Being super enthused in the east probably doesn’t pay off: Kayak recommends waiting until after July 31 to book your holiday travel. So don’t wait any longer if you spot a good deal but don’t feel bad about procrastinating — but do start watching fares.

If you’re flying from the West...

If you’re flying from the western United States, avoiding booking holiday travel in June and July was a smart move: This is typically when median airfare for the holidays is at its highest. For the best savings, wait until after Sept. 4 to start booking your holiday travel.

If you’re traveling to Europe...

If you want to skip American Thanksgiving or spend Christmas and New Year’s abroad, you still have time to plan your international travels. Book your airfare in mid-October for the best deals. If you’re flying to Europe over the holidays, Kayak recommends booking about six to eight weeks ahead of time for the lowest ticket prices.

Last season, Kayak data shows airfare to Europe steadily declining from late summer through the end of September until mid-October for holiday travel between Nov. 18, 2016, through Jan. 3, 2016.

Keep an eye on Oct. 10

Kayak’s archival data approximates Oct. 10 as the day with the best prices to travel to Europe for the holiday season, so if you’re still ticket-free on this date, this is when you’re likely to have the biggest savings.

16 PHOTOS
Warm destinations with cheap airfare
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Warm destinations with cheap airfare

1. Puerta Vallarta, Mexico: $454

This resort town on the Pacific coast of Mexico is a cultural hub with plenty of shopping, art and nightlife. Treat yourself to an early (or late) Christmas present by shopping everything from international brands in malls to unique handcrafted goods at local markets, and dine at streetside cafes and award-winning restaurants. Ready to trade the parka for a night dress? Hit the boardwalk for bars and shows.

2. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic: $484

Protect yourself from the winter blues by partaking in the blend of waterfront and cultural activities that abound in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Go horseback riding on the sand, explore mystical caves or learn about coconut, coffee and cocoa production at local ranches.

3. Pensacola, Florida: $393

This coastal city on Florida's northern coast has plenty of family-friendly activities and intriguing history. Along with adventures like zip lining and tubing down Coldwater Creek, Pensacola boasts historic forts with the ruins of ancient wars, and public air shows from the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron.

4. San Josè del Cabo, Mexico: $437

With an average high of 80 degrees Fahrenheit in December, San José del Cabo is the winter calling for many travelers who live in more frigid climates. The city's downtown is marked by its adobe houses and jacaranda trees, and just south of the the town center is a 9-hole golf course for some relaxing recreation in the sunshine. In a nutshell, San José del Cabo is the quiet relative of rowdier Cabo San Lucas.

5. Nassau, The Bahamas: $410

Visit the capital of the vibrant Bahamas in Nassau, which is on the island of New Providence, if you're looking to trade slush for warm turquoise waters. Nassau and the adjacent Paradise Island offer plenty of visitor-friendly travel packages for both families and couples. Beyond being a playground for kids and adults (think waterparks and casinos), Nassau is the ideal place to get pampered with incredible spas and massage therapy.

6. Miami Beach, Florida: $289
 

During the holidays in Miami, you'll find palm trees wrapped in garland, holiday markets and plenty of dazzling Christmas lights. Even beyond the holiday season, keep yourself busy by tasting sips at the best Miami bars, checking out historic Art Deco and MiMo architecture, and indulging in the city's famously luxurious shopping.

7. Myrtle Beach, Florida: $346

Likely to be forgotten on the average traveler's bucket list, Myrtle Beach offers a charming blend of quiet beachside living, outdoor activities and family-friendly fun. Known for its cozy beach homes, condo rentals and waterfront campgrounds, Myrtle Beach showcases attractions like the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum, an aerial adventure park with zip lines, an aquariumand watersports like parasailing and scuba diving.

8. Daytona Beach, Florida: $336

Whether you have a need for speed (see the Daytona International Speedway) or you need a vacation to slow down (see Daytona Beach area's four oceanfront resort spas), this city on Florida's Atlantic coast has something for you. Known as the World Center of Racing, complete with the new Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, Daytona also offers activities like fishing, plentiful farmers markets and historic sites like the ruins of Bulow Plantation and the Daytona Playhouse.

9. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: $557

Considered the oldest city in the New World, Santo Domingo is both a business and finance center and tourist destination, offering a unique blend of contemporary and historic sites. Explore the capital of the Dominican Republic by checking out Alcázar de Colón (a vice-regal residence that dates to 1510), Catedral Primada de América (the first cathedral in the New World, with construction beginning in 1514) and Parque Colón (a public space ideal for people watching).

10. Montego Bay, Jamaica: $482

At Montego Bay, you can enjoy some of the best things in the world: Think lush white beaches, clean waters and brand new, insanely luxe overwater hotel villas that just made headlines earlier this year. It's actually best to visit Montego Bay in the winter, since (as with many other Caribbean locales) dry season is from December to April.

11. San Diego, California: $330

This sunny California city on the beach has a little bit of everything — including gorgeous decorations and fun festivities during the holidays (think a "Santa Train" and parks and gardens decked out in Christmas lights). Check out one of the many San Diego breweries, lay on the beach, or put your wildlife hat on at the San Diego Zoo. No matter when you go, chances are, the weather will be lovely.

12. Cancun, Mexico: $398

Trade the snow shovel for a beach umbrella at paradise-on-Earth, Cancun. Beyond basking in the sun on the beach, you can also visit the nearby fishing village of Puerto Morelos with its peaceful, bohemian vibes, or explore Mayan culture by visiting incredible ancient pyramids. Alternatively, make a splash in the warm water with snorkeling or sailing activities.

13. Orlando, Florida

If the thought of visiting Walt Disney World during the holidays isn't enticing enough, consider Orlando for its beautiful beaches, cultural attractions like the Orland Museum of Art and gorgeous golf courses (with more than 170 golf courses, Orlando is considered the capital of golf). Oh, and of course, you'll be convinced to visit by the fact that temperature highs in the winter months are around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

14. San Juan, Puerto Rico: $414

This winter, you can spend your vacation exploring old-world elegance and plenty of history in a warm, tropical environment that doesn't require a passport to get to from the United States. One of the most popular tourist destinations in the Caribbean, San Juan, Puerto Rico was a fortified city 500 years ago. Old San Juan still features colonial style with its cobblestone streets and colorful homes, while New San Juan offers bustling city life and nightlife.

15. Fort Lauderdale, Florida: $259

If you'd care to bob in water dotted with sea turtles, head to Fort Lauderdale this winter. The sunny Floridian city offers plenty of waterfront activities, along with day spas, casinos and natural wonders like the nearby Anne Kolb Nature Center, one of the world's largest urban parks with more than 1,500 acres of coastal mangrove wetlands.

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