Ex­pert tips on book­ing air­line flights for the up­com­ing hol­i­days

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - TRAVEL - BY KERRI WESTENBERG Star Tri­bune (Min­neapo­lis)

In a year like no other, when in­door gath­er­ings are sus­pect and fam­ily gath­er­ings may be scrapped, who knows what the hol­i­days will bring. For­tu­nately, peo­ple still pon­der­ing plans — and yet to buy air­line tick­ets — may not be forced to pay for their de­lay.

The usual rise in hol­i­day air­fare prices may look more like a bunny hill than a black-di­a­mond peak this year.

“Air­lines are not be­ing as puni­tive with fares for Thanks­giv­ing and Christ­mas and New Year’s. Fares are higher, de­pend­ing on days you fly on, but not as egre­gious as it has been in years past,” said Kyle Pot­ter, ex­ec­u­tive editor at Thrifty Trav­eler.

In ad­di­tion to the gen­er­ally lower fares for the up­com­ing hol­i­days, air­lines might not hike prices as high as is typ­i­cal for those who make flight ar­range­ments late.

Pot­ter said that for years, air­lines have pe­nal­ized cus­tomers who book three to four weeks ahead of de­par­ture by rais­ing prices. Gen­er­ally, last-minute flyers have been busi­ness trav­el­ers, whose com­pa­nies foot the bill. In­creas­ingly, leisure trav­el­ers are wait­ing longer to make plans in an un­cer­tain world.

Thrifty Trav­eler, a Min­neapo­lis-based flight-deal and travel-ed­u­ca­tion com­pany, has found that as busi­ness travel dries up and leisure trav­el­ers re­main wary of fly­ing, the three- to four-week win­dow has shrunk down to one week. There’s no telling if that new trend will hold for the hol­i­days, but Pot­ter said, “I wouldn’t be sur­prised if air­lines are more le­nient, not pu­n­ish­ing peo­ple for book­ing last-minute flights home.”

Trav­el­ers can still find good prices, even for Thanks­giv­ing.

The best way to fer­ret out deals, ac­cord­ing to Pot­ter, is to be flex­i­ble and plan a buf­fer be­tween the days of the flights and the hol­i­day. Choose the Satur­day be­fore Thanks­giv­ing rather than Wed­nes­day, for in­stance. He also rec­om­mends us­ing Google

Flights (google.com/ flights), which has a cal­en­dar show­ing the cheap­est days to fly.

Scott Keyes of Scott’s Cheap Flights noted that air travel is down about 70% from last year. “Air­lines are not see­ing nearly the de­mand they would, so they are hav­ing to do the un­think­able, which is of­fer cheap hol­i­day flights.”

Keyes’ com­pany, which sends alerts about flight deals, has found more cheap flights around the win­ter hol­i­days this year than it has seen in the past five years com­bined.

Keyes thinks deals may con­tinue to pop up as the hol­i­days ap­proach, but of­fers a gen­eral time frame for op­ti­mal shop­ping. For Thanks­giv­ing flights, he says to book sooner rather than later; one month out from Thanks­giv­ing should be a firm dead­line. For De­cem­ber hol­i­days, he sug­gests peo­ple start look­ing for deals now. If noth­ing ma­te­ri­al­izes by the end of October, book by early

Novem­ber in or­der to avoid pos­si­ble last-minute fare goug­ing.

Keyes noted an­other pos­i­tive: All tick­ets are flex­i­ble. “Across the board, air­lines are waiv­ing change fees on all new book­ings in 2020, even for ba­sic econ­omy fares,” he said. “So you can book that Thanks­giv­ing flight or that Christ­mas flight — book it in pen­cil, not per­ma­nent marker.”

Such flex­i­bil­ity means that if a cheaper fare shows up later, trav­el­ers can switch flights and even air­lines. Or if the coro­n­avirus is on an uptick at a des­ti­na­tion, peo­ple can skip the flight penalty-free and visit next year.

Low prices for hol­i­day flights are unique to this pan­demic, Keyes said. Once the cri­sis is over and life re­turns to nor­mal, air­line prices will bounce back, too. Next year’s hol­i­day flights will likely cost more, but Keyes wants peo­ple to re­mem­ber an over­ar­ch­ing truth: “We have been liv­ing for years now in the golden age of cheap flights. That was true be­fore the pan­demic and it will be true af­ter the pan­demic, as well.”

ALEX WELSH NYT file

The typ­i­cal rise in hol­i­day air­fare prices may not be as high as pre­vi­ous years.

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