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When to book the cheapest flights for holiday travel

While you can always snag solid last-minute travel deals, when you're booking airfare your best chance to save comes from buying early – but not too early.

A passenger talks on the phone as American Airlines jets sit parked at their gates at Washington's Ronald Reagan National Airport, Jan. 25, 2016.
Susan Walsh/AP/File | Caption

If you haven't thought about your next vacation, maybe it's time to start planning. While you can always snag solid last-minute travel deals, when you're booking airfare your best chance to save comes from buying early — but not too early.

When we wrote about how to save on flights, one of our tips was to pick the right time to book. If you book too early, you're probably paying a little extra to get your travel plans squared away in advance. But if you book too late, you're likely to pay a high premium. To figure out when you should book flights for the year's vacations, we talked to the team at Hopper, an airfare prediction app for iOS and Android that analyzes billions of flight prices every day.

Based on Hopper data for 2016 and early 2017, we offer details on the best time to book holiday flights — both in general and for specific days like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and more.

General Holiday Airfare Trends

Looking at all those flights, some trends emerge. Last year, the average "good deal" price for a domestic roundtrip flight around a holiday was about $280, though so far we've seen slightly higher prices in 2017. Presidents' Day fares started about $20 higher this year than last, so this year's good deal prices may not be quite as impressive as 2016's.

Typically, costs fluctuate around the good deal price until 30 or so days before departure, when they start climbing steadily, jumping steeply about two weeks before departure. Expect prices to go up at these rates.

  • $2 per day from 30 to 20 days before departure
  • $5 per day from 20 to 14 days before departure
  • $14 per day from 14 days before departure until the departure date

Procrastination just doesn't pay when it comes to holiday airfare. Generally, the best time to book is two to three months in advance. If you wait until a month out, you'll start to see higher prices — and if you wait until the very last minute, you could pay twice the best deal price.

But each holiday is a little different. Christmas and New Year's Eve both started at higher prices in 2016 and should be booked earlier than most holidays. Fortunately, we've got the data for nine major holidays, so you can plan your whole year.

Flight Price Data for 9 Major Holidays

St. Patrick's Day

Date in 2017: Friday, March 17

Good deal price: $263

When to buy: 90 to 70 days before departure

When prices skyrocket: 28 days before departure

Easter

Date in 2017: Sunday, April 16

Good deal price: $275

When to buy: 90 to 70 days before departure

When prices skyrocket: 30 days before departure

Memorial Day

Date in 2017: Monday, May 29

Good deal price: $255

When to buy: 90 to 80 days before departure or 55 to 45 days before departure

When prices skyrocket: 22 days before departure

Independence Day

Date in 2017: Tuesday, July 4

Good deal price: $300

When to buy: 75 to 60 days before departure

When prices skyrocket: 28 days before departure

Labor Day

Date in 2017: Monday, September 4

Good deal price: $240

When to buy: 28 days before departure

When prices skyrocket: 20 days before departure

Columbus Day

Date in 2017: Monday, October 9

Good deal price: $235

When to buy: 60 to 28 days before departure

When prices skyrocket: 20 days before departure

Thanksgiving

Date in 2017: Thursday, November 23

Good deal price: $270

When to buy: 65 to 55 days before departure

When prices skyrocket: 20 days before departure

Christmas

Date in 2017: Monday, December 25

Good deal price: $325

When to buy: 85 days before departure

When prices skyrocket: 20 days before departure

New Year's Eve

Date in 2017: Sunday, December 31

Good deal price: $320

When to buy: 90 days before departure

When prices skyrocket: 14 days before departure

Tips to Remember Before You Buy

What appears to be the lowest price may not always be the lowest price. Before you click "buy," look at the airline's fees. If the cheapest option will charge you $30 each way for luggage, it may not be the best buy. Check different airlines and different fare classes to see if one offers the extras you want at a reasonable price.

This story originally appeared on DealNews.

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