Along with peak summer, the period between Christmas and New Year’s is typically one of the most expensive times of year for flights. It is, not surprisingly, also one of the most popular times of year for travel.
Why are Christmas flights so expensive?
- The three-week period around Christmas and New Year’s is the most expensive time to fly all year, typically starting around December 17th and lasting through January 7th or so.
- The reason why is everyone wants to travel then, and airlines only have so many seats — they can’t just bring in new planes to meet holiday demand — so prices go up.
- If you have flexible vacation time and keeping flights cheap is a priority, we’d strongly advise buying flights around Christmas and traveling a different time of year. Even if you really want to travel in the winter, the end of November/beginning of December and January/February tend to be some of the least expensive periods for flights.
With all that in mind, if you’re still intent on flying somewhere over the holidays, here’s how you should approach finding cheap Christmas flights.
When is the best time to book Christmas flights?
Most airlines beginning selling tickets around 12 months out from departure date. (Notable exception: Southwest Airlines, which only releases fares a few months out.) So next year’s Christmas flights are going on sale just as December this year is ending.
You don’t want to wait until the last minute to book because prices tend to spike late. On the other hand, you don’t want to book too early, because you might miss out on a future price drop.
Timing-wise, you should aim to book 5-10 months in advance of travel. That is far earlier than most other people book flights, so you have a better chance of getting the cheap seats.
Still, it's not a good idea to book just any old fare in February through July. When a particularly good fare pop ups up—and they’re most likely to during that period—that’s the ideal time to book.
The closer you get to Christmas, especially within a few months, we wouldn’t anticipate getting anything resembling a “cheap” flight, unfortunately. Last-minute cheap flights or standby flights are virtually non-existent these days. At that point, limiting your losses is likely the best you can hope for.
>> Read our Ultimate Guide to Finding Cheap Flights
How much do flights over Christmas cost?
If you live in a big American city (NYC, LA, etc.), a great fare over Christmas would be ~$500 roundtrip to Europe, maybe slightly higher to Asia. If you live in a smaller market, a great Christmas fare to Europe will be closer to $600 roundtrip.
Same goes for destinations: the smaller the destination market, the more you should anticipate paying.
Of course, those are ideal (though not terribly uncommon) fares if you book in that February through July period. A good Christmas fare booked in October would be over $800.
Flexibility is your friend
The more flexible you are with airports, the better your chances of getting a cheap flight.
For example, fares may be $1,000 roundtrip from Philadelphia to Amsterdam, but only $500 from NYC to Amsterdam. You can get a flight, train, or bus from Philadelphia to NYC for as low as $50 roundtrip. By separating your trip into two itineraries rather than one, you can drop the total cost from $1,000 to $550 in this example.
Similarly, fares may be $1,000 from NYC to Amsterdam, but just $500 NYC to Brussels. If cheap flights is a priority, either you take a vacation to Belgium instead of the Netherlands, or just hop a train once you land in Brussels and make your way up to Netherlands for way less than the $1,000 it would have cost to fly directly there. Read more here about how to combine two itineraries and save.