When should you book flights for next Christmas?

Dec 26, 2019

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Merry Christmas from TPG U.K! You may have paid a lot for flights at Christmas time — it’s one of the busiest and most expensive travel periods of the year. It’s not unusual to see flights priced at twice or three times what they would cost at other times of the year.

If you are flying long-haul to somewhere like Australia or New Zealand at this time, you may have found that you either had to fly a carrier you didn’t want to or take a convoluted or indirect routing in order to get there for a reasonable price. Friends of mine flew home from London (LHR) to Sydney (SYD) for Christmas this year and ended up flying via San Francisco (SFO), as it was the least expensive option, though obviously a very long journey — roughly 26 hours in the air.

If you want to avoid paying through the nose for flights next Christmas, or maybe use points or miles, there’s very simple advice — book as early as you possibly can, ideally now.

It’s very unlikely any airline will reduce fares significantly or have a sale for dates during Christmas 2020, so once flights are available, they will only get more expensive. Airlines will usually sell different numbers of seats for different prices or fare brackets on the same flight. Once the cheapest fares have sold out, the next cheapest seats become the cheapest available and so on. That’s why on a flight like, say London to Ibiza in the summer, the cheapest fares months in advance may only be £50. However, if there is only one seat left a week in advance, that seat might cost £300.

Related: Which airports are the best to connect in when flying to Australia?

The Spanish island of Ibiza is drop-dead gorgeous. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
The Spanish island of Ibiza. (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock/Lukasz Janyst)

If a flight is not selling, the airline may choose to discount fares heavily in order to fill up all the empty seats. A Ryanair flight on a Wednesday in February might advertise £9.99 sale fares a month in advance because it is such an off-peak time to travel but the airline still wants to fill up the plane.

Airlines have no difficulty filling their planes at Christmas, as so many people travel. The best time to book is as soon as the tickets for your desired flights go on sale, as they are likely to be the lowest prices you will see (and they may not even be that cheap depending on where you are travelling). The exact dates differ slightly from airline to airline, but most airlines load their fares between 11 months and 12 months in advance of each flight. To give some specific airline examples:

  • British Airways — 355 days in advance
  • EasyJet — tickets for travel from 31 August to 24 October 2020 went on sale on 7 November. The next release of seats to cover Christmas 2020 dates will be in April 2020.
  • Emirates — 340 days in advance.
  • Iberia — 365 days in advance.
  • Norwegian — nine to 12 months in advance.
  • Singapore Airlines — 355 days in advance.
  • Virgin Atlantic — 11 months in advance.

If you are planning to use points for your Christmas flights, then you should plan to book them as soon as they are released. For premium fares on premium routes — for example, British Airways to Sydney — you need to be online (or on the phone) the second they are released to book them with points — for British Airways that is midnight.

Related: The hardest and easiest long-haul routes on which you can typically find Avios availability

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 24: Santa Claus sits in his chair as he poses for photographs at Luna Park on December 24, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. Hundreds of locals and international visitors have had the opportunity to have their photo taken with Santa Claus against the iconic backdrop of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House during the month of December before Santa has to leave Sydney on Christmas Eve and deliver his presents to children all over the world. (Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)
Santa in Sydney. (Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)

If you are happy with a cash fare and have some flexibility, it is not essential that you book the very second seats are released but I would definitely recommend booking as soon as you can. For destinations like Australia or New Zealand for Christmas, aim for at least nine months in advance — it’s likely flights will only get a (lot) more expensive.

Note that Google Flights will only show dates up to 11 months in advance — where an airline sells flights more than 11 months in advance you would need to go directly to their own website where they would list all flights they have on sale. Skyscanner on the other hand do show dates and flights for a full 12 months in advance.

Bottom line

It’s simple really — don’t waste time and as soon as you spot those home-bound flights and you can afford it or have the points and miles — get booking!

Featured image by Gettys Images/Emilija Manevska

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