Flying is one of the most expensive ways to travel – but in many cases it’s the only way to get where you need to go.
That’s why we asked Colleen Kelly, professional balloonist and host of the popular PBS series Family Travel With Colleen Kelly, to help us understand the best and worst times of year to fly.
“Prices will always be higher around holidays,” Kelly told us, “and airlines will raise prices when they know people want to travel. If you can go in the off-season or during a non-holiday month, you have a better chance of saving money. “
Here are some of the best ways to save money on air travel – as well as what you can do if you’ve already booked your flight.
Save money by traveling in mid-January
What is one of the best times of the year to fly? Mid-January, right after everyone else got back from their holiday trip.
“One of my favorite times to fly is in January,” explains Kelly. “The first week of January can be good, but the second and third weeks of January are usually good times to travel.”;
There are other good reasons to book your holiday trip for mid-January. If your employer needs a certain number of employees to remain on site during Christmas and New Year, for example, you can sign up to work on the days your colleagues might prefer to take time off.
If your parents are retired and willing to accommodate your family’s schedule, you can still enjoy a multigenerational holiday celebration, complete with cookies, gifts, and long-standing traditions—or you can decide to celebrate the holidays quietly at home and use your January trip to gather the extended family at an all-inclusive warm-weather resort.
By the way, this is another advantage of traveling in mid-January. “The hotels aren’t as full,” Kelly explains, “so the prices are better for families.” There are so many money-saving reasons to travel in the first month of the year that your family may want to change their vacation plans permanently.
Plan your holiday during the shoulder season
Another good time to travel is during the shoulder season – the months between high season and off-season travel times, such as June or September. “The shoulder season is always a good time to fly,” says Kelly. “For example, I fly with my teenagers to Paris in November, when the hotels and flights are much cheaper.”
Traveling during the shoulder season gives you the money-saving benefits that come with avoiding peak traffic, while saving your family from experiencing the worst of all the unpleasant weather associated with off-season travel. You may have to deal with temperatures that are a little less comfortable than you hoped for – but for some families, that’s part of the fun.
“It won’t be hot when we get there,” Kelly says, “but it will still be Paris.”
If you must fly during the holiday, book as early as possible
Flying during the busy holiday season can be both stressful and expensive, so it’s worth asking yourself if you really need to board a plane. “Think about overstaying the holidays,” Kelly suggests — or, as we suggested earlier, book your holiday trip in mid-January, when prices drop and cheap flights are plentiful.
If flying is your only option, start planning your trip as early as possible. “Airlines raise prices when they know people want to travel,” Kelly explains – meaning that by booking your ticket before everyone else, you can have a better chance of getting the lowest possible fare.
You may also want to set up alerts to help you track potential prizes. “Set up a Google Alert with Google Flights when you start your search,” advises Kelly. “A Google alert will track your flights on the dates you want to fly and send you emails when a price has dropped or risen. You can set it and forget it, as they say.”
Even if you’ve already booked your vacation flights, a Google Alert can still help you save money. “If I’ve booked a flight and paid for it, I still set up a Google Alert for that specific flight,” says Kelly. “You can also set up an alert in Skyscanner at the same time.”
Why would you want to set up alerts on flights you’ve already booked? “Sometimes the cost of your flight will go down,” Kelly explains.
“If it does, contact the airline as soon as possible. They will very likely honor that price and refund the difference. I’ve done this with American, my airline of choice, several times – and sometimes I got a refund of $70 per ticket. For a family of four, that’s $280 back in my pocket to use for something else like a rental car on my vacation!”