Here's how much a last-minute holiday flight will cost

Holiday Travel
Photo credit Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

Flying home for the holidays or looking to dodge the cold on a trip to somewhere warm? Book your flight early -- or be prepared to shell out some extra cash.

Travel experts say last-minute flights over the holidays will cost quite a bit extra due to high demand and fewer scheduled flights.

Back in September, fare-tracker Hopper predicted that flights for the holidays would be the most expensive in five years -- and it seems like they were right. Airfares in the month of October were up 43% over the previous year, according to the Associated Press.

As for why flights are so expensive lately, it's as simple as supply and demand. Airlines are flying fewer flights, yet demand for travel has skyrocketed despite high inflation  -- and travelers continue to plan trips closer to their departure dates than prior to the pandemic.

"Fewer flights and more people looking to head home or take vacation for the holidays means two things: Prices will be higher, and we will see flights sell out for both holidays," Holly Berg, Hopper's chief economist, told the AP.

Domestic airfare over Christmas is up about 40% from last year, averaging at least $463 per ticket, per Hopper's Holiday Travel Outlook report. The longer you wait to book your trip, the more expensive airfare will be.

Travel experts say the best deals for holiday airfares are already gone, but you can still find ways to save some money if your travel dates are flexible. Shifting your itinerary by just a couple of days can drastically change the price you pay for holiday travel, according to NerdWallet.

Since Christmas falls over a weekend this year, the "bookend days" (Thursday, Friday and Monday) will be the most expensive to fly, with airfare averaging well over $500 per domestic ticket, per Hopper.

Flying out on the Monday or Tuesday ahead of Christmas weekend could offer savings of 25% or $120+ off peak airfare. Travel on Christmas Eve is also a great value and could save you $100 compared to peak Thursday/Friday prices, Hopper added. Returning the Tuesday or Wednesday after Christmas Day will offer the most savings, roughly $40 compared to returning the day after the holiday, according to Hopper.

One day you'll want to avoid the airport is Dec. 23, which is expected be to worst day to travel due to big crowds and high prices, according to NerdWallet. Fridays always trend busy at airports, no matter the season -- but the day before Christmas Eve is also historically popular, no matter what day of the week it lands on, the website notes.

If your travel plans are extended to include New Year's, you're going to pay for it. Hopper says the most expensive days to return will be New Year's Day through January 2nd, so plan to return before the end of the year or the following Wednesday for the best prices.

Also, to lower your risk of a flight delay or cancellation, book your trip as early in the day as possible.

"If something goes wrong, it tends to progress throughout the day — it gets to be a domino effect," Chuck Thackston, general manager of Airlines Reporting Corp., told the AP.

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