It's no secret that travel requires flexibility. A new city, a different language, a foreign menu, and all of the unexpected ins-and-outs of moving from one place to another force a certain nimble attitude so that a traveler's mind is free to expand rather than explode. But it's probably a good idea to be just as flexible about jet-setting before you arrive somewhere else, too—especially if you're on the hunt for holiday travel deals.
"During peak travel periods like summer and the holidays, far more people want to fly than during other times of year, but airlines don't have airplanes sitting in reserve to meet that increase in demand," Scott Keyes, co-founder of Scott's Cheap Flights, says. "As a result, ticket prices go up."
Usually, expensive airfare means less money to go around for actual experiences. And if your travel budget took a hit over the holidays, perhaps it's time to start planning now for the places you want to see this summer. Scott says that the best way to avoid a pricey flight is to book as early as possible. The rule to remember? Book summer trips in the winter and winter trips in the summer, he says.
"The best way to still get cheap flights in spite of the challenge is to be flexible and book early," Keyes continues. "Instead of setting your heart on one location and praying for cheap fares there, being flexible about where you go lets the availability of cheap flights drive your decision-making. For instance, maybe summer flights to Rome are expensive, but you just checked and found some cheap fares to Copenhagen. Grabbing the Denmark flight instead of Rome is the way to go."
We asked Keyes to elaborate on scoring holiday travel deals with five easy tricks to keep in mind. Although there's no such thing as reoccurring holiday deals, tips like these—as well as signing up for flight alerts on Scott's Cheap Flights, Google Flights, or Kayak—will help you hone a flexible travel mindset where ever you may be.
Remember, Thanksgiving is one of the worst times of year to fly domestically, but one of the best times of year to fly internationally. "The reason why is that most people are looking for flights home to be with family, and so there's actually less demand for flights overseas than other times of the year," Keyes says.
Don't wait until the last minute to book. "In the last week or two before a flight, fares tend to skyrocket," he notes. "This wasn't true 20 years ago as airlines slashed prices to fill unsold seats, but nowadays airlines actually jack up prices on unsold seats knowing that it's mostly business travelers booking in that last week, and they don't care about prices because their company is paying for the ticket."
Book at least six months ahead of time. "Your best hope of getting cheap (or at least reasonable) flights during peak summer or holiday travel is to book well before most people do," Keyes continues. "If you wait until the last few months, there are far more people competing for far fewer seats."
Search Southwest separately. "Southwest is a perennial favorite among many travelers for their low fares, free checked bags, and free ticket changes and cancellations, but their fares do not show up on flight search engines like Orbitz or Priceline," he adds.
Check fares close to where you want to go, too. "Let's say you want to fly from Portland to Philadelphia over Thanksgiving," Keyes says. "Fares for that route are currently $418 roundtrip with a connection in Houston. Meanwhile, fares from Portland to Newark are $308 nonstop roundtrip. You can get a train from Newark to Philly for as low as $25 (the bus is even cheaper) and you've got time to check out NYC as well if you'd like."