Figuring out when to book summer travel is a lot like grilling steaks at a summer barbecue: Everyone’s apparently an expert, and they’re not afraid to tell you their opinion. But much like you’ll only take grilling advice from Bobby Flay, so should you only listen to proven experts when trying to determine the best times to buy airline tickets and hotel rooms.
Unlike your know-it-all neighbor standing behind you at the grill, we’re not going to claim to be those experts. Instead, we talked to the booking gurus at Priceline.com, who crunched a ton of numbers and found not only when to book for spring break, Memorial Day, and all of summer, but also for pretty much every other big weekend for the rest of the year.
1. Spring Break
When to book: before February 24
Though campus reps might be hawking big group deals to Cabo hard right now, you don’t need to lock that in just yet. Book a flight and hotel before the end of February, and you’ll be paying somewhere around $228 per ticket. Wait until after February 24, and that price spikes up to $313, or 37 percent more than you would have paid this week. What we’re saying is lock in your plans by the end of this weekend, or maybe consider spending this spring break catching up on sleep.
2. Memorial Day
When to book: before May 13
Hard to imagine it as you stare out the window at a dreary snowbank, but the unofficial start of summer is only three months away. You can start daydreaming about barbecues and swimming pools now, then start perusing flights for the Memorial Day weekend. The average cost of $239 will hold pretty solidly up until May 13. After that, the average goes up to about $313, or 31 percent more. Another Memorial Day flight hack: Look at flying Saturday to Tuesday if you can, as the difference in price going home a day later might be worth spending a vacation day. Especially if you’re traveling with your family.
3. Fourth of July
When to book: before June 18
This year we’re back to our glorious, four-day Independence Day weekends as July 4 falls on a Thursday. That means Wednesday-Sunday routes will be the most expensive though booking before June 18 still shows an average fare of $214. That goes up to $304 — or 42 percent more — if you wait until 16 days prior. But you can still save money if you’re okay with sharing the sky with fireworks and flying on the Fourth. Hotels, Priceline notes, stay pretty constant right up until Independence Day. So feel free to roll into town with nowhere to stay and see where the party takes you.
4. August travel
When to book: before July 20
Even though technically we don’t get all of August off like our friends over in Europe, sometimes it feels like it as the doggiest days of summer are usually filled with empty offices and unreturned emails. August is the ideal time to get away, and if you’re looking to travel during the holiday-free week of August 4-11, you’ll want to lock that down around mid-July. Average prices will jump up a staggering 71 percent if you wait past the 14-day window, from $216 to $369. Hotels, on the other hand, should stay pretty constant. So you can figure that out later.
5. Labor Day
When to book: before August 21
Summer comes to an unfairly early close this year as Labor Day weekend doesn’t even wait for September and begins August 31. If you’re looking for one last hurrah of summer, you’ll need to book your flights at least 10 days prior by August 21. That’s when you’ll find an average ticket price of $252, which increases 44 percent to $364 after. Hotels won’t see much price fluctuation, so you can book at your leisure.
When to book: before November 20
Calculating when to book Thanksgiving travel has become a popular science over the last decade, and by now, most people know traveling the Wednesday prior and the Sunday after is about the most expensive way to do it. Though timing when to buy is a topic of heated debate, Priceline found airfares holding pretty solidly until eight days before Thanksgiving with an average of $243 per ticket. That number jumps up 47 percent to $357 if you wait until the week of Thanksgiving and possibly even more if you’re looking to travel on those prime Wednesday and Sunday routes. The good news is if you’re just not feeling spending Thanksgiving with your family is that hotels rates will stay constant. Constantly jacked up, but still constant.
When to book: before December 14
Much like traveling for Thanksgiving, trying to predict the best time to book Christmas travel gets almost as much press as Tom Brady’s diet. If you’re looking to head home for the holidays on December 22, make sure to book at least seven days out. Your average ticket will go up from $277 to $341 if you wait, costing you 23 percent more. Looking to cut it a little closer? Flights on December 23 will average $283 before December 14 and go up 17 percent to $330 after that. Though conventional wisdom says flying on Christmas Eve is cheapest of all. Also, like Thanksgiving, accommodations that aren’t your in-laws’ guest room won’t see much price fluctuation.