With midterms in full swing, you probably already have a lot on your mind. Unfortunately, in addition to mid-terms, you should probably be thinking about how you’re getting home for Thanksgiving break. As we get closer to the busy Thanksgiving travel period, flights will only become more expensive and harder to find. Here’s when to book and how to save the most on flights this Thanksgiving.
The Best Time to Book Thanksgiving Flights
According to Skyscanner, we’ve already passed the best time to book Thanksgiving travel. The popular travel site claims that the week of August 27th was the best time to book flights for those looking to save. However, given the current situation as a result of the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, flights remain significantly cheaper than in previous years. For the majority of students (and many other travelers) booking a flight three months out is simply out of the question. While you may not save as much as you would have if you had booked in August, you can still save quite a bit if you book now.
Beginning the final week of October, airlines will begin increasing the ticket prices for Thanksgiving travel. These prices don’t stop increasing, with prices reaching their peak the week of Thanksgiving. Additionally, given the on-going pandemic, airlines will look to capitalize on holiday travel to make up for lost revenue. This means that, if you plan on heading home this Thanksgiving, you’ll want to start looking at flights now.
Tips on Scoring The Best Deals for Thanksgiving Travel
In addition to booking at certain times of the year, there are a few other ways to save money when booking Thanksgiving travel. Unfortunately, if you follow these tips, you’ll likely book flights with longer layovers, undesirable flight times, and flights operated by Frontier, Spirit, and other ultra-low-cost carriers (ULCCs). Here are a few tips on scoring the best deals for Thanksgiving travel.
Tip: Don't Book Flights on Top Travel Days
Flights on the top travel days will be priced significantly higher than flights on other dates. For example, you will want to avoid booking a flight on what’s erroneously considered the busiest travel day of the year–the day before Thanksgiving–November 27th. Airlines know that this is one the busiest times of the year for travel and will price their flights accordingly. You’ll also want to avoid the Friday following Thanksgiving (Nov. 27th) and that Sunday after Thanksgiving (Nov. 29th).
Instead, look for flights that depart the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, November 24th. If you have the flexibility, you may also want to consider traveling on the Saturday before Thanksgiving (Nov. 21st) or that following Monday (Nov. 23rd). As for return flights, the Saturday following the Thanksgiving holiday (Nov. 28th) and flights that following Monday (Nov. 30th) will allow you to save the most on air travel.
Tip: Book Awful Itineraries
If you want to save money on flights, you’ll have to make some sacrifices. The best and most direct itineraries are almost always the most expensive options. Conversely, the itineraries with the longest layovers and most stops are typically the least expensive options. To put it bluntly, book the worst possible itineraries. While this may be more difficult given the on-going pandemic, the itineraries with the most stops and least desirable layovers remain the least expensive.
For example, if you’re a TCU student trying to get to Boston for Thanksgiving, the least expensive nonstop flight is currently $222 round-trip. However, if you were to book an itinerary with a few stops and change of airport, you’d save $33 round-trip. Again, not a desirable way to get across the country, however, you’d save some money and get to explore a few of America’s beautiful airports.
That’s just one of many examples in which a less desirable itinerary can save you some money this Thanksgiving. With the exception of a few high-traffic routes served by multiple airlines, the less desirable itinerary is almost always going to be the least expensive option.
Tip: Avoid Smaller Airports and College Town Airports
If you’re attending a large state school in the middle of a rather small city, you may be surprised to learn that the nearest airport actually offers a number of nonstop flights. This is the case for any traveler living in a rural area. While super convenient for alumni looking to catch a college football game or students commuting to or from campus, these airports tend to offer flights priced far higher than larger nearby airports. So, if you can, avoid these tiny airports.
Instead, look into bus service to larger nearby airports or (if available) take Amtrak part of the way. First, make sure flights offered by airlines at your small town airport aren’t reasonably priced. You may luck out and find reasonably priced or even cheap flights.
If that’s not the case, research ground transportation. Determine the price of that ground transportation and add it to the price of a flight from the nearest major airport. Compare that price to the price of flights from your small town airport and then decide if you’re willing to be inconvenienced with the hassle of a bus ride or train ride given the difference in price.
Tip: Ultra-Low-Cost Carriers Offer Ultra-Low-Cost Fares
Ultra-low-cost carriers are common targets on social media and in pop culture. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a joke about Spirit, I wouldn’t have to fly Spirit. While customer service is often subpar and everything from a bottle of water to a paper boarding pass costs extra, ultra-low-cost carriers (ULCCs) are almost always the cheapest option. So, if you want to save money on your flight home this Thanksgiving, swallow your pride, cram as much as you can in a backpack, and fly an ULCC.
In the US, Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit are considered ULCCs. With an ULCC, you pay for an unassigned seat on your desired flight. Nothing is included in the price of your ticket. While you’ll still get to bring a personal item like a backpack or purse on-board, you’ll have to pay for a larger carry-on bag, checked bags, seat assignments, inflight snacks and drinks, and possibly even paper boarding passes. But, as previously mentioned, if you don’t pay for anything else and just the price of your flight, you’ll save a lot by flying on an ULCC.
The Bottom Line
Time is running out to save on flights over the Thanksgiving holiday. With each passing day, flights will continue to become more and more expensive. While still more than a month away, now is the time to start researching and booking your flights to and from campus. Not only will booking in advance save money, but following simple tips like booking less the ideal itineraries and flying ultra-low-cost carriers will also allow you to save on air travel. There’s no better feeling than stuffing your face with turkey and knowing you didn’t overpay on your flight home.