Holiday travel calendar

When it comes to holiday airfares, room rates, and car rental rates, it’s all about supply and demand. The more you stand out from the crowd by traveling on less popular dates and booking before everyone else, the better off you’ll be.

Air Travel

Domestic airfares are influenced by competition, popularity of the route, and seat capacity. Competing carriers flying the same route increase competition and put pressure on airlines to keep prices competitive. Carriers anticipate a spike in demand during peak travel times, adjusting their flight schedules and equipment accordingly. Additional flights and larger equipment will add to seat capacity, enhancing competitive pricing. Buying tickets well in advance ensures that you get the reservation you want on an acceptable flight schedule… But that may not get you the best rates. To do that, consider buying your tickets 60 days in advance, instead of waiting until closer to your departure date.

The busiest travel dates will be the day before Thanksgiving and the day before Christmas Eve. Consider flying before those days, avoiding Fridays and Mondays when passenger loads peak. Travel insiders recommend mid-week flights for better seats and more competitive rates.

Flexibility plays a major role in getting the best airfares, and that means not just flight dates, but also flight times. The demand for seats is usually higher for daytime flights. If possible, consider taking the earliest morning flight for better rates and more comfortable seating, since this flight is less likely to be fully booked. (These flights are also less likely to experience delays.)

Flexibility with routes and choice of airport can also affect rates. The ideal itinerary is a direct flight between your departure point and destination, but these fares are often higher. A flight with one or two layovers will add to your flight time, but may cost significantly less. Additionally, look at flying into alternative airports instead of the main hub, because airfares are typically lower for flights headed to smaller airports.


Unlike airlines, hotels cannot adjust their capacities to account for more bookings during the holiday season. The number of rooms for each hotel is finite, so it’s best to have a few options to choose from in case your first choice is fully booked or prohibitively expensive. Hotel chains offer tiered rates for different properties within their network, so consider more basic accommodations to save on hotel expenses.

With online hotel reservations, verify the amenities included in your quoted rate prior to traveling. Discounted room rates may mean extra charges for basic amenities such as coffee makers and extra towels.

Car Rental

As with airlines, car rental companies have the ability to adjust their capacity to account for anticipated increase in rental reservations. They do this by shifting vehicles from less popular holiday destinations to major travel hubs, stabilizing rental rates in the process. But again, capacity is finite, so advanced reservations are recommended to make sure that you are not stranded in the airport during the busy travel season.

Other Secrets of Savvy Holiday Travelers

Take advantage of airline, hotel and car rental discounts exclusive to AAA and AARP members. Loyalty programs and promotional packages that bundle airfare, hotel and car rentals can mean significant savings.

Extra baggage fees can add to travel costs. Compare check-in luggage fees to the cost of shipping your luggage by parcel service for additional savings.

Things can go awry even with the most meticulous travel planning. Inclement weather, medical emergencies and occupational demands can play havoc on your well-laid travel plans. Consider travel insurance to cover your nonrefundable expenses in case life throws you a curve ball during the holidays.

And last but definitely not least, remember airport transportation! The best way to keep costs down and avoid unpleasant surprises is to plan to drive yourself to the airport and reserve parking in advance. Parking lots in busy markets sell out weeks before the holiday, so secure your space as soon as you have your flights booked, and rest that much easier on departure day.