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The Cheapest Times to Book Holiday Travel

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SEASONAL STRATEGIES

While summer is barely in the rearview mirror, travel experts have already turned their attention to the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas travel frenzy. A handful of reports have recently been released identifying the best times to book 2018 holiday travel, because the reality is, booking in advance is a necessity if the aim is to score the best price, while also making the process agony free. Here's a look at the tips and insights compiled by Hipmunk and CheapAir, for those in search of cost-effective and hassle-free flights around the holidays.

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WHEN TO BOOK THANKSGIVING FLIGHTS

The best time to book your Thanksgiving flight may depend on which travel industry report you choose to take to heart. CheapAir's review of 11,000 flight itineraries during the holiday season revealed that the biggest bargains can be scored this month. Their data showed the average ticket purchased in September cost $393. If you can't buy now, don't despair. According to Hipmunk's review of its flight data, reserving a Thanksgiving ticket the week of Oct. 1 translates into 23 percent off peak booking prices, with the average ticket going for about $387.

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THE BEST DAY FOR OUTBOUND THANKSGIVING FLIGHTS

The Monday of Thanksgiving week appears to be one of the best days to fly and score a bargain on outbound fares, according to CheapAir. Their data shows an average savings of about $40 per ticket, over outbound flights the day before Thanksgiving.

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FLYING ON THANKSGIVING DAY

For those who don't mind showing up right before dinner (or risking possibly missing dinner), Thanksgiving Day is also a relatively affordable day to travel. Hipmunk's report shows that traveling on the holiday will save about 21 percent over peak booking prices. CheapAir's data also revealed a savings for those who choose to fly on Thanksgiving Day. The site found that the average ticket for those flying on the holiday is $461, compared to $482 the day before.

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WHEN NOT TO FLY

While not exactly a surprising revelation, the CheapAir report confirms that the Sunday after Thanksgiving is the busiest, and one of the most expensive, travel days of the year. You can save nearly $100 per ticket, on average, by flying home one day later.

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THE TUESDAY AFTER THANKSGIVING

Most experts agree that the Monday after Thanksgiving is a relatively affordable day to travel, but CheapAir says you can save even more by pushing that holiday vacation until Tuesday. "You'll save a ton of cash — $209 per ticket just by delaying your return home a couple of extra days," according to the report.

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DON'T FORGET YOUR CHRISTMAS TICKETS

Like Thanksgiving, the Christmas holiday brings a flurry of travel and as a result, sky-high ticket prices. To score a bargain, the best time to buy an airline ticket is the week of Oct. 15, when the average price is $357. That's about 25 percent off peak booking prices, says Hipmunk.

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WHEN TO DEPART FOR CHRISTMAS

For those who have the ability to take a whopping 10 days off, or can work remotely, the cheapest Christmas flights this year depart on Dec. 18 and return on Dec. 28, says CheapAir.

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CHRISTMAS EVE SAVINGS

Yet another option that will translate into savings is traveling on Christmas Eve. Flying the night before the holiday cuts costs an average of $76 when compared to traveling on Saturday, Dec. 22 (a more popular travel date), says CheapAir.

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FLYING ON CHRISTMAS DAY

Again, this is not a recommendation for the faint of heart, or for those who like to actually watch the presents being opened. But for those who dare, flying on Christmas day will save you about 20 percent, according to Hipmunk.

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WHEN NOT TO FLY

This year, Christmas falls on a Tuesday and the most expensive day to fly is the preceding Friday, Dec. 21, says Hipmunk.

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BEST DAY TO FLY HOME

For those who are not big New Year's Eve fans and want to spend even more time with the family before heading home, opt for a return flight on Dec. 31. CheapAir says it's one of the most economical days to fly home.

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CREATE FARE ALERTS TO SAVE EVEN MORE

Most frequent travelers know this trick already, but if you want to snag the absolute best prices, create a fare alert on a search site. Hipmunk's data shows that Thanksgiving flyers who create a fare alert can save 6 percent on the average booking price. Similarly, travelers who set a fare alert for Christmas flights save an average of 7 percent.

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BE FLEXIBLE

When it comes to scoring discounts on holiday travel, this should be a no brainer, but let's state it again — be flexible with your travel days. As CheapAir points out in its tips, sometimes flying a day earlier or a day later can make a huge difference.

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CONSIDER ALTERNATE AIRPORTS

Here's another trick experienced travelers use: Search for flight itineraries that route through alternate airports, particularly if your travel plans take you to a large metro area where there are multiple airport options. "Booking a flight into an alternate airport can save travelers 14 percent on Thanksgiving weekend, and 17 percent off the week of Christmas," according to the Hipmunk report. To do this, include multiple airport codes when you search, which will allow for easily comparing all your price options in one results page.

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OPT FOR BASIC ECONOMY

Basic economy fares are no-frills flights at rock-bottom prices. They're yet another cost-saving option for bargain hunting travelers. But be prepared, these flights are cheaper because they come with strict limitations such as limits on upgrades, carry-ons, and even seat selection. For those willing to accept the trade-offs, as much as 13 percent can be saved on Thanksgiving flights, says Hipmunk. As for Christmas, a basic economy fare will save you about 14 percent.

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BE READY TO BUY

When it comes to shopping for holiday fares, if you come across a reasonable price, be ready to pounce, recommends CheapAir. "There are often only a handful of seats available at the best rates and they get snapped up quickly," states the report.

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MIX AND MATCH

When searching for flight bargains, try mixing and matching airlines to get the cheapest flights and best schedules. You can do this by booking one-way segments with different airlines. In other words, book your outbound flight with one carrier and your return flight with another to maximize savings.

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UNDERSTAND THE REALITIES OF HOLIDAY TRAVEL

When searching for holiday flights, it's important to be realistic, says CheapAir. Prices for holiday travel are almost always more expensive than for other times of the year. Keep that in mind as you bargain hunt.