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Here's when to find the best airfare for holiday travel

This could be an expensive holiday travel season. Here's what North Texas-based airlines have to say about canceled holiday flights.

DALLAS — How far away are the relatives again? Actually, that doesn’t even matter. How about we take a Thanksgiving road trip and return home…and then we turn around and do it all again for Christmas? 

You might have that thought at some point in the months ahead because airlines are desperate to avoid what we saw in this summer’s travail season. You read that right: travail, which this summer was a synonym for travel, at least by air.

By now you’ve probably seen the dire warnings that carriers, determined to avoid the travel travails of late, have slashed tens of thousands of holiday flights. So, we’ll have fewer seats available and continued pent-up demand to travel, which means the expensive holiday gift to your family might be the flight you take to go see them.

Some big efforts to analyze when you might find the cheapest holiday flights

Cheapair is tracking 11,000 different flights, and they have published calendars for this holiday season to reveal the less expensive and more expensive days to travel during the holidays. 

Generally, they estimate that jetting away for Thanksgiving will be 25% more expensive this year than it was last year and that flights around Christmas will cost 28% more than last year.

Google Flights recently did an analysis of airfares over the last five years. The site says they “calculated average round trip airfares observed Aug 1, 2017, through Aug 1, 2022, on Google Flights, for 6- to 9-day trips and 13- to 16-day trips departing from the top 4,000 markets in the U.S. 

For Thanksgiving and Christmas, we examined 6- to 9-day trips and 13- to 16-day trips with departure dates before the holiday and return dates after the holiday.”

They found that around the time of Thanksgiving, the lowest prices have usually been 36 to 74 days prior to departure. We are in that window now. Google Flights says Thanksgiving travel is usually cheapest at 52 days out from departure. Assuming you are leaving on Thanksgiving Day, 52 days prior is Oct. 3.

But as you are getting that flight booked, don’t sleep on Christmas plans, because Google Flights found that airfare for travel around that holiday dropped 20 to 88 days before you depart, so we’re in that window, too, because 88 days prior to Christmas Day was Sept. 28. Google found the cheapest average price for airfares for travel around the Christmas holiday was 22 days before you take off. Waiting until then to book it, though, could be risky.

Setting alerts for better airfare deals

You may not see fares you like this holiday season because of the supply and demand crunch. If you don't see a price you like, you might normally make it a habit to set an automatic alert, where a site will notify you if a better fare pops up for your particular itinerary. 

But if you are thinking about setting an alert to let you know when fares get better, there are a couple of sites that do a better job than the others, according to Scott’s Cheap Flights.

Will canceled flights affect your plans to fly with North Texas-based carriers?

Since North Texas is a huge home base for air travel, you might be concerned that some of the thousands of holiday flights that have been cut nationally might leave you with fewer options in what is expected to be an unusually crowded and expensive traveling season ahead.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines says the fall schedule revisions they made affected fewer than 2% of all their flights. They boast they will be flying what they call a “full holiday schedule” from their home airport, Dallas Love Field. So, they’re expecting to operate “195 flights on peak days” at Love Field during the holidays.

Fort Worth-based American Airlines has made headlines for cutting thousands of flights at the end of the year. In November alone, they’re slashing 16% of their schedule. That’s 31,000 fewer flights. How many of those might be from AA’s huge hub at DFW Airport? The airline says they “don’t have specific numbers to share.”

But if you are worried about flight cuts affecting your plans, the carrier says it has now gone back to a pre-pandemic system for publishing American’s “final schedule approximately 100 days in advance.” This means the Thanksgiving schedule should be fully locked in now. And we were 100 days out from Christmas on Sept. 16. So, that schedule should be all set now, too.

We’ll see if removing all those flights makes it all go more smoothly than the chaos we saw with multiple airlines over the summer.

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