When should you book flights for next Christmas?

Dec 27, 2020

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 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.

Travel rules permitting — if you are flying long-haul to somewhere like Australia or New Zealand at Christmas, you may have found that you either had to fly a carrier you didn’t want to or take a convoluted or indirect route in order to get there for a reasonable price.

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.

Be mindful though of various countries’ travel restrictions and guidelines when booking, due to the COVID-19 pandemic — though hopefully these will all be lifted by this time next year.

It’s very unlikely any airline will reduce fares significantly or have a sale for dates during Christmas 2021, 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 London to Ibiza in the summer, the cheapest fares months in advance may only be £50. However, if there’s only one seat left a week in advance, that seat might cost £300.

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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 typically 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
  • 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 much 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 its own website where it would list all flights it has on sale. Skyscanner, on the other hand, does 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

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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