Along with Christmas flights, New Year’s is typically one of the most expensive times of year to fly. Regardless of destination.
Since we all love traveling during the winter holiday break—and nothing sours the winter cheer like expensive flights—here are essential tips to help you get the cheapest flight possible for your holiday travel.
Flights for New Year's are so expensive due to the simple laws of supply and demand: a lot of people want to fly, and airlines only have so many seats, so prices go up.
Specifically, the three-week period around Christmas and New Year’s is typically the most expensive time to fly all year. Typically starting around December 17th and lasting through January 7th or so.
With all that in mind, if you’re still intent on flying somewhere over the holidays, here’s how you should approach finding cheap New Year’s flights.
Most airlines beginning selling tickets around one year (12 months) out from departure date. (Notable exception: Southwest Airlines, which only releases fares a few months out.) So next year’s New Year’s 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 New Year’s, 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.
If you live in a big American city (NYC, LA, etc.), a great fare over New Year’s would be ~$500 roundtrip to Europe, maybe a shade higher to Asia. If you live in a smaller market, a great New Year’s 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 New Year’s fare booked in October would be over $800.
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 New York City 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. We call this the Greek islands trick and have a whole guide about how to book this kind of flight.
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.
If you have flexible vacation time and keeping flights cheap is a priority, we’d strongly advise buying flights around New Year’s 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.