6 great ways to fly for cheap during the holidays

Now that Christmas is quickly approaching, there’s a lot of travel going on – and in many cases, if you haven’t yet booked your holiday travel, it’s going to get really (more) expensive, really fast.

Fortunately, there are solid ways to find pretty inexpensive travel through the New Year – though that’s not to say it’s always straightforward. A recent Wall Street Journal article suggests that Sundays are now the best day of the week to buy tickets, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be significantly cheaper, especially if you’re buying within 7 or 14 days of travel.

Here we go with six ways to save big.

6) Book early.

Obviously, the easiest way to do something is…the easy way – and this would be the easiest way. If you have the opportunity to make your travel plans in advance, sometimes this will be your cheapest paid option. Fares rapidly increase on routes at 14 and 7 days prior to travel, so if you’re keeping an eye on fares, mark those dates on calendar and prepare to make your decision then.

Kayak also has a thing when you search which will suggest, like the stock market, whether or not you should wait or buy now. Generally, if a ticket is $1,000, it’s not going to become $200…ever. But it could drop $50. Take a look at that.

5) Check all your options.

Different airlines

If you have a favorite airline, great. Trouble is that depending on where you’re traveling, there may be cheaper options. Use tools like ITA (more advanced) and Kayak (very easy) to find the cheapest options across the airlines.

Alternate airports

This won’t work for everyone, since every destination is different. Some metropolitan areas have multiple airports, and sometimes the inconvenience can be worthwhile in terms of dollars spent. For instance, flying into the Washington, DC area can be expensive any time of year, but there are three airports. Although (BWI) Baltimore is certainly not convenient if you’re going to DC, you can easily save $300, even if you have to buy a $50 train ticket to get there.

That’s money for presents…or for the bar when you need to escape. Just sayin’.

4) Explore booking a one-way with points.

If you’re near a 7- or 14-day travel window, consider using miles for your departure and then purchasing a one-way return flight – especially if you’re going to be gone for a while.

For instance, say I wanted to fly one week from today, and come home a week or two later. That round-trip price is typically going to be relatively expensive because the departure date is so near, but the return trip will be more reasonable.

In all cases, using miles is going to be cheaper, but if you either don’t have enough miles for a round trip or you want to add points to your arsenal, explore buying your return flight home and using miles to get there.

3) Explore buying points.

Sometimes, certain routes can be VERY expensive, especially during peak travel times like the holidays and to small destinations. In these cases, having miles can be very useful – but what if you don’t have those miles to spend?

Consider buying them.

Not all airlines will allow you to buy miles – and when they do, it’s not exactly cheap – but sometimes it’s cheaper to buy 25,000 miles for $750 than to buy a $1000 airline ticket. Just make sure there’s award availability on the dates you want to fly before you needlessly buy miles you couldn’t use.

For the most part, it’s not worth buying an entire ticket by buying miles. At an average of 3 cents per mile, it gets costly – it’ll take you at least 25,000 miles to fly roundtrip, and during peak travel times, it may cost upwards of 50,000 for a domestic roundtrip ticket. But again, if it’s cheaper, it may be worth it.

Also, consider buying enough points or miles for a one-way ticket, and purchasing a one-way fare for your return home. If you’ve got a few miles that you’ve forgotten about, consider looking at that airline to bring down the cost.

Again, this method isn’t exactly the easiest way – but if you’re looking to save money, it may be worth it. The biggest

I’ve done extensive write-ups about determining when this is worthwhile – take a look:

Hawaii, last minute, for $10?

Double Mile Bonuses Everywhere: Delta, United, Alaska

Buying US Airways miles with 100% bonus: is it worth it?

2) Use miles, miles, miles.

Without a doubt, the cheapest way to fly during the crazy holiday season is using miles you’ve accumulated, either through actual flying or through credit card bonuses. You’ll still pay taxes, and if generally if you’re not an elite member, you may pay a fee to use your points (most airlines) and another fee if you’re booking close to your destination day (US Airlines is the worst for this). But even paying $100 to use your miles can be WAY cheaper than the last-minute $1,000 flight you’re otherwise looking at.

1) Be creative.

Everything above can be combined to save serious cash. Buy enough miles for a one-way, and fly home using a paid ticket. Or fly into one airport and out another. Or rent a car and drive to a different airport if it’s that much cheaper.

There are SO many ways to work the system – and using a little ingenuity, a little patience, and some good manners if you have to talk to an agent on the phone, you can easily save some money while getting home for the holidays.