How to Book a Holiday Flight for Less

Still finalizing your holiday travel plans? Don't hold your breath for any last-minute deals on airfare. Passenger demand and prices have surged this year, The Wall Street Journal reports, and are likely to continue to rise. Luckily we have a few tips for procrastinators with limited budgets. For instance, now is the time to book a New Year's trip before fares spike, according to one expert, and certain days promise cheaper holiday flights than others.

When to Book.

Fares for holiday flights really begin to rise this time of year, especially for international travel, so it's best to book as soon as possible, particularly if you're on a tight schedule. If you're up for a bit of a gamble -- and don't mind an early-morning departure or a connecting flight -- the season has brought occasional price drops in the past. According to 2011 data complied by the search site Kayak and posted on Gizmodo, ticket prices dipped on Dec. 12 and 13, a Monday and Tuesday, and on the following Friday and Saturday, Dec. 16 and 17, before beginning a steep climb. Of course, there's no guarantee the same thing will happen this year. Within 14 days of departure, prices typically make a distinct jump upward.

If you've decided to roll the dice and keep an eye out for a price drop, several sites offer tools that can help. Kayak lets you search for cheap holiday flights on a variety of airlines and even hack together a flight on more than one airline to get the best price, as well as set up daily email alerts. Airfarewatchdog, FareCompare, and others provide similar fare alerts.

Don't get caught watching prices for too long, though. Better to jump on a relatively cheap holiday flight and see it drop another $30 than wait and have it jump $100. Travel guru The Points Guy has zeroed in on this week as the deadline for finding a decent fare for New Year's Eve. Kayak data predict that prices will rise sharply after Dec. 5.

When to Fly.

Some days are more expensive for air travel than others. This holiday season, you can expect the Saturdays on either side of Christmas, Dec. 22 and Dec. 29, to command a premium. If you depart and return on a weekday instead, you can likely find a cheaper holiday flight. Kayak points to savings of up to 21 percent if you leave on or close to Dec. 25 and return Friday, Dec. 28, instead of waiting until the weekend. If you're planning a trip for New Year's Eve, arriving on Dec. 31 and returning on Thursday, Jan. 3, or Friday, Jan. 4, can land you a discount of up to 27 percent.

FareCompare research has revealed some other general guidelines for buying plane tickets that may or may not prove helpful this holiday season. The cheapest day to fly is generally Wednesday, for example. Unfortunately, with Christmas landing on a Tuesday this year, not many people will be able to take advantage of that. The site also found that the best time to buy tickets is at 3 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesdays.