Spending

Now is the best time to make one early holiday purchase

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Twenty/20

One of the best strategies to save on airfare is to be flexible with your travel dates — which isn't really an option when you're looking to go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas. When it comes to holiday travel, experts say, your best bet is booking early.

To get the lowest-priced flights for travel around the Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays, here's when to buy and when to fly.

When to book your flight

"Book both Thanksgiving and Christmas [flights] by Halloween," says Liana Corwin of flight price-tracking app Hopper. "November is when we see prices start to spike." But even earlier is better. Last year, travelers scored the best deals four months in advance of their flight date — meaning by booking now, around Labor Day weekend, you're already a little late to the game.

For example, last year, travelers who booked Christmas flights in the first week of September saw average fares of $389, according to Hipmunk data. By early November, however, the typical fare was $480.

Travelers tend to have less flexibility in their dates for Thanksgiving travel, so savings don't tend to be as significant. Experts say if you see a slightly lower fare, book it. If you really want to avoid surge pricing, book during Labor Day weekend or the week after, says Ben Mutzabaugh of The Points Guys.

When to fly

Getting on a plane the day of Thanksgiving or Christmas will most likely net the most savings, Mutzabaugh says. But you run the risk of missing the holiday altogether if there are any delays. If that plan makes you too anxious, there are other days you can fly to get low prices:

Thanksgiving: Most people will look for round trips from the Wednesday before Thanksgiving to the Sunday after, Mutzabaugh says. Avoid those peak days if you can. The cheapest day to fly is the Monday ahead of Thanksgiving, with average round-trip prices of $288, about 20% cheaper than Wednesday, according to Hopper.

Christmas: Christmas falls on a Wednesday this year, so you'll see a lot of demand during the weekend before, Mutzabaugh says. The highest-priced flights between December 20-25 will be on Saturday, December 21, with a round-trip domestic flight costing an average of $504, according to Hopper. Flying on December 23 is 22% cheaper ($394), and on Christmas Eve you'll spend even less, at an average $344.

Of course, monitoring airfares will help you get a good deal, but don't wait for a bargain, Mutzabaugh cautions. "Don't hold out to save $30 at the risk that it will go up $300," he says. In other words, if it seems low, buy it.

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