As summer fades into fall, it’s high-time to start booking your holiday trips—if you haven’t already. Flying over the holidays can be pricey, but with a little bit of planning and some flexibility, it is possible to find cheap Thanksgiving flights, like $117 roundtrip to Montana or even $351 roundtrip to Portugal, like some of the past deals we've sent members of Scott's Cheap Flights.
Book 2-6 months in advance
Generally, the best time to search for cheap flights is 2-6 months in advance for international travel and 1-3 months in advance for domestic. During peak times like summer, Spring Break, Christmas, and New Year’s, or when your dates are not flexible, you’ll want to book even further out, if possible.
Thanksgiving is a bit of an anomaly among the holidays, though. If you’re looking to travel domestically, it can be expensive and a holiday-booking strategy should apply (e.g. start watching prices as early as possible). However, for international flights, it can actually be one of the best times of year to find a cheap flight because most Americans are traveling domestically, so there are more open seats for flights overseas, and therefore often better prices.
However, you should still try to book at least two months in advance, as the odds of snagging a cheap flight decrease the closer it gets to Thanksgiving, especially if your dates and destination are not flexible. By early September, the window for cheap Thanksgiving flights (and even Christmas and New Year’s) is closing fast. And once you get to about three weeks out from Thanksgiving, you can expect prices to soar.
Be flexible with dates
If you’re trying to find flights to see family for Thanksgiving, you’ll be much more likely to snag a deal if you can pad your travel dates so that you aren’t flying out the day before Thanksgiving and back home the Sunday after—as these are two of the busiest travel days of the year.
Instead, look at flying to your destination earlier in the week when most people are still at work, or flying back home later the following week. If you don’t have extra time off work, try to fly when most people don’t want to: for example, most people start their Thanksgiving celebrations by Thursday afternoon, so flights that arrive later on in the day are typically cheaper than those that arrive in the morning.
If you’re not visiting family and are instead planning a much-needed international vacation, consider leaving Thanksgiving day, when fares are typically lower, and coming back mid-week the following week.
Use the flexible dates search function on Google Flights to find the most affordable days and times to travel over your targeted date range. Sometimes changing your dates by just a day or two can make a huge difference in cost.
Going on vacation? Be flexible with your destination, too
Don’t care where you go? As always, we recommend using Google Flights to jump-start your search and find the cheapest dates and locations.
Google Flights’ Explore Map shows you the cheapest places to travel from your home base over the specified date range you’d like to travel. Regions outside of the United States, for example, won’t be celebrating Thanksgiving, so it’s a great time to squeeze in an affordable Europe vacation to a city like Paris, Amsterdam, or London that’s a lot more expensive in, say, summer or over Christmas.
Also, keep these tips for cheap Thanksgiving flights in mind:
- Consider the time of day. Less desirable times, such as red-eyes or the first flight of the morning, tend to be cheaper.
- Look at alternate airports. Expand your search to encompass airports within a short drive radius. For example, if you’re going to New York City, flying into Newark, or even Philadelphia, might yield cheaper flights than JFK or LaGuardia.
- Try hidden city ticketing if the place you want to go is a hub. One way to hack airline prices is to look at other ticket options that might have you connecting in the hub you’re attempting to travel to. In other words, a flight from San Francisco to Nashville with a layover in Atlanta might be cheaper than a direct flight from San Francisco to Atlanta; if you’re looking to go to Atlanta as your final destination, you’d take the first leg and not the second. Just remember when you skip a leg on a hidden-city flight, the rest of your ticket will be canceled, so book two one-way tickets, or else skip the flight only on your return leg.
- If you’re flying internationally, focus on getting across the ocean as cheaply as possible. This might mean booking a round-trip flight to a major hub like Paris or London and then another cheap roundtrip flight to your final destination via a low-cost regional carrier (or taking the train, bus, or ferry).