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Flying Home for Christmas? Tips for Business Travelers on Snagging Last-Minute Flights

December 20th, 2016 /

The holidays are a lonely, frustrating time to be in an airport: you’re surrounded by millions of other travelers, but you’re all trying to catch the same limited number of flights, watching as weather delays put seats in shorter and shorter supply. The mad rush to the check-in counters, the lines at the gate, and the number of angry passengers on standby make me want to be almost anywhere else.

But sometimes you just need to brave the storm and get home for Christmas. Even if you get called away on business in the last week of December, don’t worry. There’s still hope for getting a reasonably priced flight home to surprise your family on the big day.

here's what to know about flying home for the holidays at the last minute

Make it home for the holidays and spend time with your family by booking your flight carefully. Image by Flickr user Johnny Lai (CC BY 2.0)

Know When to Book

If you’re trying to catch a last-minute flight after an equally last-minute business trip, you obviously can’t follow the rule of thumb about booking seasonal flights six weeks in advance.

But if you’ve got a couple of days to spare, at least try to purchase your ticket on a weekday.

Some sources recommend booking on Wednesday at 1 am (according to the timezone of your airline’s main hub). New fares are typically released early Monday and will time out after 24 hours. When unpurchased tickets return to the system, airlines tend to discount these seats further in order to fill the plane.

Plan Your Travel Date Well

There are perks to choosing the right day to fly during the holidays—including shorter lines and less hassle at the airport. And, ironically, flying on the holiday itself might be your best bet. Choosing an early morning flight on Christmas or New Year’s Eve is often much cheaper than booking the day before or after.

Sunday fares tend to be pricey year-round because people are rushing to return home before the work week starts, but because Christmas falls on a Sunday this year and many people have the following Monday off work, this isn’t a rule you necessarily want to follow.

last-minute holiday flights

Delayed flights are most frustrating during the holidays. Try to book a date that won’t be too crowded. Image by Flickr user Craig Sunter (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Choose Your Flight Carefully

If you’re traveling on short notice, you probably won’t be able to take advantage of the luxury options that you might be used to as a business traveler. Here’s what to keep in mind instead:

  • Be flexible. You should be willing to sacrifice factors like cabin class. Economy is fine this time of year if it means actually getting a seat.
  • Don’t count on your miles. There are typically fewer award fare codes released for holiday flights, and most programs also have blackout dates. Paying cash will serve you better.
  • Depart early. If possible, book the first flight of the day. This gives you a better shot at getting home on time if the weather turns bad. Morning flights are generally cheaper during the holidays as well.
  • Try for nonstop. On that same note, non-stop flights are safer than flights with multiple connections. They reduce your odds of getting grounded halfway to your destination.
  • Consider changing airports. If you normally fly into a huge international hub, consider opting for a regional airport. These can be both cheaper and less crowded. Google Flights is handy for a quick comparison: enter your destination, and the site shows a map of ticket prices at all airports in your area.
flying home for christmas

Being home for the holidays is definitely possible with the help of creative booking. Image by Flickr user Roxanne Ready (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Make Your Move and Enjoy the Ride

Holiday seats go quickly. And with the reduced number of affordable fares available, you’ll want to be strategic about what and when you book.

If you’re returning home and only need to book a one-way ticket, you’re already going to save compared with holiday travelers making a round trip. Still, it’s hard to completely avoid the stress of air travel this time of year, so I’d suggest making up for it by streamlining the hotel booking process. A membership with JetLux gets you a personal reservationist who can provide you with discounted rates on the best hotels in the country. Flying might never be stress-free, but you can at least rest assured of luxury accommodations wherever you land.

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