There's just no getting around it: The holidays are always the most expensive time to fly. But, by knowing when to book and when to fly (or perhaps more importantly, when not to fly), you can save a bundle.
When to book
It may be difficult to think about Thanksgiving or Christmas so soon after Labor Day, but that's what you'll have to do in order to find reasonable fares and decent availability on flights. After all, prices aren't going to get any cheaper for holiday travel, but they are guaranteed to go up as the season gets closer.
"Book as soon as you can if you are limited by the dates that you can travel," advises Hotwire's travel expert, Barbara Messing. "Book early to lock in a flight at a good price; if you wait to book closer to the holidays, you'll need to be [even more] flexible about travel dates to get a good fare."
When to fly
You'll be able to save the biggest bucks by avoiding peak travel dates, and "traveling a day or two earlier than the crowds," says Messing. For Thanksgiving, the busiest travel days will be the Tuesday and Wednesday before the holiday (November 20 and 21) and the three days following the holiday (November 24 through 26). In December, the most expensive travel days are December 21 through 23 and December 26 through 31.
Flying on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day will be cheaper than flying the days before, which may appeal to travelers with short flights or westbound cross-country flights. "With Christmas on a Tuesday this year, [consider] flying on Christmas Eve, as many people will make a long weekend of it, flying out on the Friday or Saturday before Christmas," says Messing. "Avoid flying between Christmas and New Year's Eve, [since] many people travel home for Christmas and then head back to their own cities to celebrate New Year's Eve with friends."