Each year, millions of Americans take to the roads and skies during November and December, whether they’re visiting friends and family, or in search of sand and sun. In a typical year, the time to start solidifying those holiday plans would be nearly upon us. However, 2020 is not a typical year. Between changing travel restrictions, health and safety considerations and shifting priorities, potential travelers have a lot to navigate this holiday season.
For those considering a trip, Expedia analyzed flight, lodging and car rental trends for the holidays to help answer some of the top questions facing travelers:
- When to book flights and stays
- How to avoid crowds and save money on car rental
- Why flexibility matters more than ever
Nisreene Atassi, Sr. Director at Expedia: “So many people rely on travel during the holidays and winter months – for relaxation, recreation, or as a time to reconnect with loved ones. Like so many other things this year, the holidays may not look the same. But for those who want or need to get away, we don’t want the uncertainty and planning process to be a source of stress. We’ve made several key updates to our site to ensure we are delivering flexible travel solutions and highlighting health and safety information. We want to give travelers the tools they need to be able to make plans they feel confident and excited about this holiday season.”
When to book flights and accommodations
Air travel: Early bird catches the fare
In past years, it wasn’t unusual for those who booked holiday airfare more than 90 days out to pay more, not less than average. However, average ticket price trends this year indicate that getting an earlier start could potentially pay off.
Looking at average ticket prices for the fall and holiday timeframe, airfare prices dip down in September before beginning to climb in early October through the end of the year. However, average ticket prices overall are still lower than last year, particularly over Thanksgiving. That means early birds will likely see some really great fares compared to last year.
- Bottom line: For those planning to travel for Thanksgiving, Expedia recommends booking flights between 60-90 days out in order to take advantage of the current lower year-on-year prices. For December or Christmas travel, the sweet spot is likely 30-60 days out.
Because airfare prices can fluctuate, the best way to ensure you don’t miss a deal is to set up a price alert for your preferred route and be flexible on departure and return dates.
Accommodations: Flexibility is fool proof
When it comes to booking a hotel or vacation home, it pays to consider the popularity of your destination. Expedia data reveals many of the destinations seeing early demand for the holidays are warm-weather leisure destinations in Mexico, Florida, the Caribbean and Hawaii. Domestic ski and snow destinations like Lake Tahoe, Vail and Jackson Hole and are also trending in popularity. This indicates that opportunistic travelers are already beginning to take advantage of deals and jumping on the chance to take a long overdue vacation.
- Bottom line: For travelers aiming to visit a popular beach, resort or tourist destination, Expedia recommends booking accommodations early and opting for refundable rates. This is especially relevant to vacation rentals, which are expected to be in-demand for families staying together for the holidays.
For extra peace of mind, travelers can review health and safety policies for more than 400,000 hotels and vacation rentals right on Expedia.com and use the recently added “Enhanced Cleaning” filter to narrow search results.
Car rental tips
Like hotels and airlines, many rental car companies have rolled out enhanced cleaning measures and flexible payment options in recent months that are easy to find and compare on Expedia.com. Travelers can choose rates that allow payment at the counter and free cancellation.
- Bottom line: The lowest price might not be the best choice if flexibility is a priority; often “reserve now, pay at pick-up” rates are a few dollars more but the trade-off to cancel without penalty might be worth it.
Here are a few other tips to avoid the crowds and save money on your holiday ride:
- Whether you’re flying into a destination or renting close to home, it pays to shop around. Rates at airport and city locations often differ so compare all locations in the vicinity to find the best price and selection.
- Avoid starting your rental on the day before Thanksgiving when rates tend to be higher (30% higher than average in 2019) and lines longer. Prices tend to be lower for pick-ups starting on the Friday or Saturday before the holiday.
- The best day to rent a car for the Christmas holiday is the Friday before the holiday, according to 2019 data. On average, rates were 15 percent cheaper on this day. Christmas Day renters paid the highest daily rates.
- Some rental car agencies can only guarantee specific vehicle types on a first-come-first-served basis, so try to pick up early and be sure to notify them in the event of a flight delay.
Tips for booking flexible travel
Unsurprisingly, flexibility continues to be one of the biggest factors for travelers, and luckily Expedia and the travel industry is making it easier to find and book these options.
- Find flexible stays on Expedia.com by filtering for “free cancellation” or “reserve now, pay later” and make sure to choose a refundable room type.
- Make note of any deadlines to cancel for a full refund – in many instances you can cancel up to 24 hours before check-in but for some vacation homes, the deadline could be two weeks prior.
- Try to avoid restrictive airfares that prohibit changes or non-refundable rates. Any savings you might see in the short term won’t be worth it if you end up needing to change your plans.