When to buy for best deals on Thanksgiving flights

Those still basking in the afterglow of summer vacation will soon be struck by an alarming sight: Halloween candy edging back-to-school supplies off store shelves. It’s an indicator that the holidays are just around the corner — which means the clock is ticking for catching Thanksgiving flight deals.

Haven’t booked flights yet? Don’t fret. According to the online metasearch site KAYAK, Thanksgiving airfares were at their most expensive in July and August. An exception to this rule was international Thanksgiving flights originating from the United States. For those, price points were at their lowest in July, at about 10 percent below the average overall fare.

So when is the domestic Thanksgiving airfare purchase sweet spot? The gap is closing fast.

Thanksgiving is notorious for being the busiest travel day of the year. With this in mind, travel comparison site Hipmunk searched its database to find the best dates for grabbing low Thanksgiving airfares. Its findings targeted the weeks leading up to Labor Day. The potential savings during this time period: up to $200.

What about post-Labor Day? Adam Goldstein, Hipmunk’s CEO, told Yahoo! Travel, “Historically, fares go up 35 percent a month from now, then up an additional 10 percent in another month, then 15 percent more another month from that.”

What that looks like in terms of average prices nationwide: $373 from now until September 1, versus $502 for a ticket booked from September 23 to 29, up to $539 from October 21 to 27, followed by $592 from November 11 to November 17.

Conversely, KAYAK expects Thanksgiving fares to steadily drop from mid-August, then remain “level at the bottom” until the last week of October. It sees averages peaking at 21 percent directly preceding Thanksgiving.

So what’s the best course of action for the aforementioned sweet spot based on differing statistics? “Set up a price alert and closely monitor airfare fluctuation,” said Maria Katime, a KAYAK spokesperson. “When it drops to a price you’re comfortable with, we recommend you book it.”

A strategy from Hipmunk when searching for Thanksgiving flights: avoid traveling on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving or the Sunday after. The site has found the Mondays and Tuesdays before and after the holiday to be more cost-effective travel days.

Another Hipmunk tip: explore various Thanksgiving travel options. “Hipmunk is the only comparison site in the United States that shows results for both regular airlines, Amtrak trains and private jets,” Goldstein said. “For certain destinations within close proximity, like New York and Washington, D.C., it’s worth looking to see if it makes more sense to take the train or fly.”

If money is no object, there are those private jets, for which Hipmunk gives instant price quotes. “Private jets are great for nonstop flights between two airports that don’t have nonstop routes and can be more cost effective than commercial airlines when flying in groups,” Goldstein said.

Multi-taskers looking to get their Christmas and New Year’s travel out of the way while booking Thanksgiving flights can also save some dough, as KAYAK reports both domestic and international flight prices rise steeply in mid-November.

A key date to keep in mind is December 21, considered the second-busiest travel day of the year. Per KAYAK, travelers can save up to 20 percent by departing close to or on Christmas Day and returning close to New Year’s Day.