AARP: Should You Plan Holiday Travel Now?
By Elaine Glusac | 08-17-2023 |
The short answer is yes. Here’s what to know about booking airfare, activities and more
In most parts of the country, it’s peak beach season. But the travel industry is already hearing holiday jingle bells.
“As a general rule, we always suggest booking travel at least six months in advance to avoid any disappointments due to lack of space or high prices,” says Mary Jean Tully, CEO of Tully Luxury Travel, an agency based in Toronto. “For travel during the holiday season, we suggest booking even farther in advance — 10 months or more — especially if you’re considering popular destinations such as the Caribbean or if traveling with a larger group, like an extended family.”
In the pre-pandemic past, spontaneous travelers could wait until close to departure and bank on last-minute sales. But that’s probably not the case this year. “No longer can you wait for the last minute and expect there to be bargains during festive season,” says Susan Zurbin-Hothersall, a Travel Edge adviser based in New York City. “The lower-priced hotel rooms usually sell out first.”
Here’s more about what you need to know about planning travel over Thanksgiving and December’s holidays.
1. Start tracking flight prices
According to the travel booking app Hopper, airfare for Christmas travel this year is similar to fares at this time last year, which is more than 20 percent above pre-pandemic prices. The good news: Fares are likely to come down in the fall. The key is to be on top of tickets before they bottom out. Hopper and search engines such as Kayak and Expedia offer a feature that tracks flight prices — just input your itinerary and you will be alerted about price fluctuations with advice to buy or to wait.
“The human side of this is that it takes time to make holiday plans,” says Hayley Berg, lead economist at Hopper. “If you start the planning process now, it gives you a little time to figure out where you’re going and to monitor prices.”
Being flexible about your destination can also lead to a good deal around the holidays. Berg says if you’re looking for a warm-weather destination such as Cancun, Punta Cana or Los Cabos, put a notification on each one and book right away when there’s a lower price. “If you can follow the deal instead of the destination, you can typically save a tremendous amount,” she says.
It’s also a good idea to look at regional airports when flying. “Regional airports are prime for low-cost carriers as they can afford the rent to enter the market from an adjacent city,” Berg says.
The ticket sales site CheapAir.com is forecasting a 12 percent increase in Thanksgiving season airfares over 2022 and an 11 percent rise over Christmas compared to last year. Surprisingly, the day before Thanksgiving, historically one of the most expensive days to travel, is looking more affordable.
“One reason for this change is that more travelers now work in a hybrid or flex environment, decreasing the demand for travel closer to the holiday,” says Jeff Klee, the CEO of CheapAir.com.
Winter weather can scramble airline schedules — remember last December’s storms, delays and lost baggage? In addition to booking early, “purchase travel insurance,” says Helen Maley, the owner of Promal Vacations based in Long Beach, New York. “Insurance can reimburse for weather delays and cancellations.”
2. Jump on lodging reservations
Many families use the holiday breaks to vacation and often travel to warm weather destinations such as the Caribbean and Mexico.
“We are seeing more and more multigenerational families — grandparents, parents and grandchildren — traveling together,” says Tully, noting that the quickest rooms to sell out from safari lodges to cruise ships are “suites that can comfortably accommodate three or four in a room, or which offer connecting rooms. So, if you’re planning on traveling with family, we strongly suggest booking well in advance to avoid disappointment.”
Even if you’re traveling solo or coupled, don’t wait. “If you book early, you can snag the entry level rooms at a reasonable rate,” says Katie Carew, a New York City-based travel adviser with Travel Edge. “If you wait too long, you will be stuck with booking a higher category room, and you may not like the price tag.”
While beach resorts boom over the holidays, consider destinations in their low season for more space and tranquility. Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, began opening over the holidays about four years ago. “I often hear from holiday season guests that they visit to appreciate the calmer seasons of Cape Cod where they can admire the quiet beauty and nature that winter affords,” says Brendan Carey, marketing director for the resort.
3. Unwrap gifts and buy Rockettes tickets
Once you know your destination, consider any activities you may want to do over the holidays — concerts, museum exhibits, light shows — and get reservations as soon as possible. “Book your restaurants ahead of arrival, as restaurants nowadays are even limiting their availability,” says Zurbin-Hothersall.
Once gathered, put next year’s plans on the agenda. “My best suggestion this year during the holidays,” says Senora Kelly, owner of Missouri-based Paradise Travel Services, “is to sit down with family and talk about next year.”