Should you book your Thanksgiving and December holiday flights now, or should you wait?
It's not too soon to think about that, according to Alphabet's Google. The tech giant's updated booking trend analysis, released Monday, along with a new "cheapest time to book" feature (more on that below), reveals that domestic flights timed around Christmas 2023 will have the lowest fares 71 days before departure. Traveling on Dec. 21, for example, would mean buying your flight as early as Oct. 7.
That's a shift from last year's booking advice, when U.S. domestic December holiday flight pricing trends indicated you could land the best fare up to 22 days before departure. The reason for the change is that 2020 flight data were excluded from the analysis this time around, as it was an atypical year with lower-than-usual fares available ahead of the Christmas travel season, a Google spokesperson said.
Flying from the United States to Europe? Unlike last year, there are no dips indicated closer to departure, and the lowest prices will be 72 days or more in advance.
For domestic Thanksgiving travel, Google says booking trends remain the same as last year: Buy a ticket 36 to 74 days ahead of departure, with the lowest-priced flights showing around 52 days out, which is Oct. 2 this year for the Nov. 23 national holiday.
Of course, holiday-timed travel may not be a possibility or even relevant for your household. You may also be looking to book sooner or after the seasonal spike, to avoid the chaos that has plagued air travel since travel's massive rebound. There's global inflation and the higher cost of travel to consider, and you may be seeking further insight into international flight pricing.
The latest iteration of Google's price prediction tool on its Google Flights search engine takes into account these varying personal scenarios, with the goal of further easing the booking decision process; it has been released in tandem with its booking trends report. The "cheapest time to book" feature provides users with more precise insights on the optimal time to book tickets to a particular destination.
In cases where Google has reliable and consistent historical pricing data to identify a meaningful trend, a blue banner and an expandable text box will appear below initial search results in Google Flights. It applies to all flight searches globally, not just those that originate from the U.S.
"We listen to lots of user feedback, and we know another common, pressing question is 'What happens if I wait until later to book this flight?'" group product manager James Byers said. "This latest update lets us help answer that question by providing more specific guidance on when prices have typically been lowest, relative to departure date."
For example, running a search on Google Flights for a round-trip flight from Miami to Punta Cana on Dec. 15 to 22 (starting at $510) triggers the feature. The blue banner appears below the list of "best departing flights" with a headline that reads, "The cheapest time to book is usually later, Sept. 2-Dec. 1."
Expanding the banner provides an explainer, which is followed by a price history graph: "The lowest prices for similar trips to Punta Cana are usually found about 1-3 months before takeoff. Prices during this time are $38 cheaper on average."
Similarly a search for a round-trip ticket from Atlanta to Los Angeles from Oct. 17 to 24 turns up the alert that "the cheapest time to book is usually now, until Oct 3," with further details available below it.
Flying from New York to London mid-December for a week's stay? The cheapest time to book is now until Sept. 25. Which means if you've date-shifted your Thanksgiving or Christmas plans then, you may already be in the perfect window to buy.
Google Flights' "cheapest time to book" alert isn't a game changer in and of itself. Other booking platforms offer predictive flight pricing insights, such as Kayak's "Price Forecast" and "Best time to travel" tools and Hopper's Price Prediction.
But it comes in handy alongside the other fare prediction tools that Google has rolled out over the years, including the pricing calendar, price graph, the "any dates" tracking feature -- released in 2022 -- which sends you notifications when the price drops lower than the usual fare over the next three to six months, and the price guarantee option available since April 3.
Altogether this provides Google users with a more robust one-stop toolbox for making flight purchase decisions and timing a trip based on cost, without having to resort to multiple booking platforms.
"We think people will find this useful because flight prices do change quite a lot, even day-to-day," Byers said. "And most people don't repeat the same flight booking multiple times, so it's hard to get a sense of pricing trends."
The usual flight booking hacks also continue to apply: adding a layover to your trip, flying out midweek rather than on the weekend or knowing which airline offers the best value for your route.