How to Get Cheap Winter Flights in 2021 

Looking for the best time to find cheap winter flights in 2021 and 2022? It can be tough to know if you’re getting a good deal. Although finding cheap holiday flights isn’t an exact science, we’ve analyzed trends from years of booking data so you can understand when (and how!) to find the best flight deals for winter flights. 

Whether you’re looking to head home for Thanksgiving or at the end of the semester, traveling to see family during the holidays or just planning to escape the cold with a winter getaway, we’ve got all the travel hacks and tips you need to know to save the most on your winter flights.

Choose your dates carefully. 

If you’re looking to score cheap holiday flights, the cheapest time to fly is usually on a Monday or Tuesday. Since many people look to leave at the end of a week or travel over the weekend, leaving at the start of the week is usually cheaper. If you have to fly over a weekend (Friday-Sunday), try to take a red-eye flight if you can, as they’re usually cheaper as well.

Avoid the busiest travel dates. 

Avoiding busy travel days saves you money—and saves your sanity too! Whether you leave a bit early for your holiday travels, come back earlier or stay a bit longer, being flexible with your travel dates can save you hundreds of dollars around the holidays (seriously). Traveling a few days before or after the holiday is usually cheaper—or travel on the holiday itself! 

The busiest winter holiday travel dates include: 

  • the Wednesday before Thanksgiving 
  • the Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving 
  • December 21-23 
  • Fridays & Sundays (in general during December) 

When searching for flights, be sure to use the flexible search feature to see cheaper flights within a few days of your search. As you can see, adjusting your travel dates by just a few days can save you a LOT of money!

Book as soon as you see a good deal…

Flight prices are dynamic and always subject to change, unlike physical items like clothes that tend to have a set price. This can make scoring a good deal a bit trickier, and during the pandemic, we’ve seen prices change even more frequently than usual. What does this mean for the best time to book tickets? Well, ultimately: the best time to buy plane tickets is whenever you see a good deal. If you see the price drop or even find a deal that’s quite a bit cheaper than the price you saw somewhere else, book it before the price rises. 

On average, the cheapest time to book domestic flights is about 3-6 weeks in advance, and international flights 2-4 months in advance. To find a good deal, look early and often—then be ready to book when you see a cheap fare.                                                                     

….which may be at the last-minute. 

During the pandemic, we’ve seen some of the best deals popping up at the last-minute. If you can afford to wait, you can sometimes find a great deal within a week or two before your flight. (Of course, this isn’t a perfect rule and you could end up paying a lot more for your flight if the prices don’t go down again. It’s a game of chance, but if you can wait, it could pay off!) 

Need a last-minute flight and prices aren’t going down? Check our promo codes to see what deals we currently have, you might be able to score some savings!  

Check airline’s policies before you book. 

Each airline has its own policies for changes and cancellations. To make it even more confusing, airlines often have different terms and conditions for different kinds of tickets (i.e. Basic Economy, Economy, Flex, Premium Economy, Fully-Refundable, etc.—yeah, it’s enough to make your head spin). Be sure to check the details of the ticket you’re purchasing before checking out. 

Check the fare type of your ticket by clicking on “Details” while searching. Basic Economy flights have the least flexibility.
See what additional charges may apply under the “Flight Amenities” tab and view the full terms and conditions of your ticket under the “Rules and Restrictions” link.

AN IMPORTANT CAVEAT: an airline that advertises free changes does not mean free cancellations. In the travel industry, a “change” is either a change of dates or destination. It does not mean that you can cancel your ticket and get a refund. In addition, if you make a change and the new ticket has a price that is higher than the original cost of your ticket, you’ll also have to pay the difference. This is called a “fare difference,” and it’s not factored into airline’s “free changes” rules.

The vast majority of airline tickets purchased are non-refundable. This means full cash refunds are hard to come by unless the airline cancels your itinerary or you’ve purchased travel insurance. You can always find the full details of any change or cancellation policies in the terms and conditions of your ticket. 

Need more flexibility?

If you’re not sure of your plans and may need to cancel your ticket completely, we recommend purchasing travel insurance or buying a refundable ticket. Otherwise, simply wait a few more weeks until your plans are more set. In addition, Basic Economy tickets are often not eligible for changes (this varies based on airline). 

If your plans do change, do your best to change your ticket instead of cancelling altogether. Most major US airlines will offer you a full credit or airline voucher if you’re not sure what you want the new dates of your flight to be yet. In that case, you can rebook later. In some cases, you can even change the origin or destination of your ticket to something else. Didn’t get to take that winter trip? You may be able to reuse it for spring break, even if you want to go somewhere different. 

Moral of the story? Check the terms and conditions carefully so you understand any fees and policies, as well as what to do if you need to make a change. 

Start looking early. 

Even if you’re not ready to purchase yet, historically, October is usually the cheapest month to book domestic holiday flights. Want to wait a bit longer to solidify your travel plans? It’s fine to wait—but start looking early so you can keep an eye out for cheap winter flights that will pop up throughout fall. 

When is the best time to book Thanksgiving flights?

If you’re looking for Thanksgiving flights, the best time to book is typically in October. Although you can definitely find some last-minute deals, historically, prices have hit their lowest prices throughout October. After that, they typically begin to rise again as Thanksgiving approaches. 

When is the best time to book flights for Christmas? 

If you’re looking for Christmas flights or flights home from school at the end of the semester, the best time to book is typically October or November. For domestic flights, booking 4-6 weeks in advance is usually the sweet spot. If you’re traveling internationally, you’ll want to book earlier (2-4 months in advance, so around September or October). The end of December is one of the busiest travel seasons in the US, so booking flights in advance is key to getting the best cheap winter flights. 

If you don’t mind waiting ‘til the last-minute, Black Friday and Cyber Monday is a great time to get cheap flight deals for winter holidays and beyond. Sign up for our email newsletters (no spam, just deals, promise!). You can also follow your favorite airlines and travel agencies on social media to get notified about the best deals. 

When is the best time to book New Years’ flights? 

If you’re looking to travel for New Year’s, the best time to book is typically at least 6-8 weeks in advance for domestic flights, and even earlier for international flights. The best way to save money on New Year’s flights is to travel on non-peak travel dates. For example, many people who want to take a New Year’s getaway want to travel around December 30 – January 2, or similar dates. You can see that prices for those dates are higher than surrounding dates. See if you can take a longer trip, or even fly on New Year’s itself to save. 

When is the best time to book flights for winter vacations? 

Good news! You can find some incredible deals for flights in January and February, especially if you’re looking to go somewhere that isn’t experiencing peak travel season at that time. For example, flights from New York to the Caribbean might be more expensive than flights from New York to Chicago or even Los Angeles. If you’re looking for flights in January and February, the best time to book winter vacations is typically in December or early January. Many airlines or travel agencies (including us!) also have incredible Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals. Shopping during these sales can help you score a great price on winter flights. 

When’s the cheapest day of the week to buy flights? 

It’s an urban legend that the cheapest day to buy flights is on Tuesdays (or any other day, really). We’ve searched through several years of data from our site and it turns out that you can find a great deal any day of the week. If you really want to know the best day to book your flights, it’s any day we launch a new sale. And when exactly is that, you may ask? Just sign up for our emails and we’ll let you know every time we drop new promo codes.

What are the cheapest days to fly in 2021?

Contrary to popular belief, the day of the week that you’re actually traveling on matters much more for price than the day of the week that you buy the ticket. Tickets are typically cheaper if you fly on a weekday (particularly Tuesdays and Wednesdays) than on weekends. Of course, early morning flights or “red-eye” flights (overnight flights) are usually a lot cheaper as well. Flying on a holiday itself (i.e. flying on December 25), will typically be significantly cheaper than the dates surrounding it. 

Which airline has the cheapest flights? 

There’s no one airline that always offers the cheapest flights. If you’re looking for rock-bottom deals, Spirit and Frontier often offer super cheap deals. However, they also offer less amenities and protections for in-flight experiences and any travel changes you may encounter. If you’re looking for cheap prices without sacrificing quality, our student discounts on airlines like American Airlines, United Airlines, Alaska Airlines and more will help you find the best prices no matter which airline you like to fly. 

So where are you off to this winter? Start looking for flights now and snag cheap winter flight deals with StudentUniverse.