15 Tricks To Save Big on Your Thanksgiving Flight, According to a Travel Expert

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Learn how to score big discounts on Thanksgiving flights from seasoned travelers.
Updated April 9, 2024
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Domestic flights during Thanksgiving week are notoriously expensive. Travelers can expect to pay hefty prices, especially if they wait until the last minute to book.

To help you plan your holiday travel — and help you keep more cash in your wallet — here are 15 simple tips for saving money on Thanksgiving flights.

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Start looking early

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Travel experts predict that prices for holiday flights — including for the days surrounding Thanksgiving and Christmas — will begin to spike around mid-October and stay high through the holidays.

If you’re looking to save on holiday travel, book as early as possible. Travelers can expect the biggest hikes in the three weeks leading up to the holiday.

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Be flexible about dates

Piman Khrutmuang/Adobe pen mark on calendar date

You could save hundreds of dollars by being a bit more flexible with your travel dates.

Specific dates around the Thanksgiving holiday — particularly the Sunday after the big day — tend to be the most popular times to fly. And that means price hikes on those days.

Flying in several days before the holiday and leaving several days after might save you money — and the headache of dealing with overcrowded airports.

Be open to early morning or late-night travel

Zamrznuti tonovi/Adobe woman using smartphone while sitting

Flights that take off early in the morning or late at night tend to be cheaper.

If you think you’ll have the energy to get up at 6 a.m. and head to the airport, it could save you a bundle.

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Look into alternate airports

ArtushFoto/Adobe peoples walking and carries luggage

Many major cities have more than one airport. So, compare your options to see which airport offers the best deal.

For example, when flying into New York City, you can use John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia Airport, or Newark Liberty International Airport in nearby Newark, New Jersey.

Sign up for fare alerts

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If you don’t have time to check flight prices daily, consider signing up for an alert system from websites such as Google Flights or Hopper.

These systems can tell you when flight prices drop for the days you hope to travel.

Make use of miles or points

Grady R/peopleimages.com/Adobe girl and card for banking

Many people use their airline miles during the holiday season. It’s a convenient way to save some cash at a time when you know prices are going to be high.

If you are not a member of a mileage program, many credit cards have points that can be used for travel, including discounted flights, hotel stays, and more.

Consider off-season destinations

NDABCREATIVITY/Adobe travel and tourism concept

If you aren’t planning to see family for Thanksgiving but instead hope to take a vacation, consider flying to a less in-demand destination.

International travel might actually be cheaper during Thanksgiving week since most Americans who travel will be doing so domestically. That might make it an ideal time to book that European getaway you’ve been dreaming of.

Pack light

JenkoAtaman/Adobe young woman goes at airport

If you're traveling for just a few days, packing light can help you save big. Not checking a bag could save you $50 or more on certain airlines.

If you only need to take an outfit or two and can fit your items into what would be considered a “personal item,” you may even be able to book a “basic economy” ticket for a less expensive price.

Prepare snacks

Ekaterina Pokrovsky/Adobe preschooler girl eating snacks

Buying an in-demand airline ticket is not the only way travelers are gouged on price — everything from water bottles to a bag of pretzels will be marked up at the airport. Food will also likely be costly during the flight itself.

Travelers can save a bundle by packing their own snacks to eat at the airport and on board.

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Look into public transportation

dStudio/Adobe adult woman tourist with suitcase

Getting to and from the airport can also add quite a bit to your overall travel bill, especially if you opt for a taxi or rideshare service or plan to park your car at the airport.

Many airports around the U.S. have great public transportation options from their airports. So, consider whether you can take a train or bus to your destination instead.

Don’t be fooled by ‘basic economy’ low prices

Nina Lawrenson/peopleimages.com/Adobe self service station for ticket

Some bargain airlines like Spirit and Frontier offer surprisingly low airfares. But these prices often don’t include basic perks, such as a free carry-on bag. That can increase the ticket price when all is said and done.

Even major airlines such as United and American might offer “basic economy” tickets that become costlier if you want to choose your seat or take anything bigger than a personal item with you.

Consider flying on the holiday

rh2010/Adobe aircraft seat near the window

While the days around Thanksgiving are hectic and flight prices tend to be expensive, far fewer travelers want to fly on Thanksgiving itself.

If you can wait until the morning of the holiday to fly in or take a flight home late that night after dinner, you could save some serious cash.

Extend your Thanksgiving weekend

gstockstudio/Adobe smiling while having dinner together

Another money-saving option for those with some flexibility is to fly home from their Thanksgiving destination on the Monday or Tuesday after the holiday.

As previously noted, the Sunday after Thanksgiving tends to be the most in-demand day; thus, airlines tend to charge the steepest prices then. You might save a bundle by extending the holiday weekend for a day or two.

Look for price drops after booking

Oleksii/Adobe smiling female holding smartphone

Some airlines might allow you to take advantage of lower prices if the cost of a flight drops after you book.

You probably won’t get cash back to cover the difference, but you could get a flight credit to use in the future.

Pick a new dining date

Rawpixel.com/Adobe people talking celebrating thanksgiving holiday

The cost to fly domestically around Thanksgiving is so high because nearly everyone has dinner plans on the same day.

If you can convince your family to do Thanksgiving the day before or after Thursday — or for an even better bargain, the following week — you could save big on flights.

Admittedly, this is an out-of-the-box idea. But if your family is frugal-minded, maybe they’ll be open to helping you save on travel by being a bit more flexible.

Bottom line

Yakobchuk Olena/Adobe carrying luggage in hall

If you want to keep more money in the bank by cutting the cost of a Thanksgiving flight, purchase your ticket early and stay flexible.

With a bit of planning, you can save money on travel plans this holiday season.

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Author Details

Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore is a seasoned freelance writer who also teaches writing courses at Rutgers University. She's based in Jersey City and enjoys travel, live music and, of course, spending quality time with her pup.

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