Haven't Booked a Holiday Flight Yet? Smart Move

By Samantha Bomkamp, AP Airlines Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Haven't booked your holiday flight yet? Smart move.

The cheapest fares for Thanksgiving and Christmas aren't going to the travelers who booked months in advance. Experts say they'll go to those who can take advantage of some last-minute deals.

In previous years, the rule was nearly always the same: Travelers who booked earliest got the cheapest fares. Those who waited generally faced higher prices.

This year, though, things are different.

Yes, fares are up and flights are fuller, but those who've waited until the last minute to book Thanksgiving or Christmas travel can still find a deal if they know where — and how — to look.

In a year when airlines seem to have the upper hand, you may wonder why airfares on U.S. routes aren't creeping higher as the holidays inch closer. The reason is airlines may have jacked some prices up too high, too fast. When that happens, airlines run sales closer to flight dates to fill the remaining seats on the plane. Airlines also ran many last-minute sales during the recession when Americans dramatically pulled back on flying.

For Christmas travel this year, you should get the cheapest flights if you book during the first week of December, airfare search site Kayak predicts. The average ticket price for travel around that time is about $433, which represents savings of about 6%, on average. In July, when many planner-types started locking down their winter plans, prices were as much as 27% higher than normal.

After prices peaked this summer, they began to gradually decrease in September. However, fares are expected to jump again starting in the second week of December.

You can also still lock in a fair price for Thanksgiving. Priceline says that the average Thanksgiving airfare has risen just $7 to an average of $407 in the past four weeks. That's about 6% higher than last year.