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By Brad Tuttle
September 14, 2021
Family of three hand in their passports at the airport check-in desk
Getty Images

The summer of 2021 was stressful and expensive for travelers, with crowded airports and high flight prices. In autumn and early winter, though, it's looking like a very different story: Flights prices have already begun to tumble beyond their usual seasonal decline, though travelers should still expect to pay a pretty penny for airfare during peak holiday times.

What kinds of deals can travelers expect this fall? Well, JetBlue just launched a major sale with one-way flight prices like $39 from Boston to Miami and $44 from New York (JFK) to Dallas.

Airfare has been trending cheaper for several weeks now, at least partly due to concerns about rising cases of COVID-19. Flight prices in the U.S. decreased by nearly 13% in August compared to July, new Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows. Airfares generally decrease from July to August, but this year airfares were still down 9% month over month even after adjusting for seasonal changes in demand.

What's more, while it's standard for flight prices to drop once kids are back in school, this year's dip could be steeper than normal, even compared to pre-pandemic times. In August, the travel search site Hopper was forecasting round-trip airfares to drop by 10% in September, and that prices would average $274 from September to November for domestic flights. That's slightly cheaper than the same period in 2019 ($284).

Meanwhile, airlines have recently been reporting a slump for flight reservations for most of the fall and early winter. The Associated Press reported that airlines like Southwest and United are facing increased cancellations and softer bookings from September through mid-December, with the exception being the busy Thanksgiving period.

This appears to be what's motivating carriers like JetBlue to promote aggressive sales, and airlines are all but guaranteed to keep lowering fares in order to fill seats on planes.

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How to get the best holiday flight deals

Travel deals may be easy to come by over the next few months, but it will still be very expensive to fly on peak dates around the Thanksgiving and winter holidays.

To get the cheapest holiday flights possible, be sure to book your trip early and choose your departure dates carefully. According to the holiday travel forecast from Hopper, the least expensive date for U.S. flights around Thanksgiving this year is Monday, November 22. If you're looking to save money, it's best to avoid flying on the Sunday after Thanksgiving (November 28), which is one of the most expensive days of the year for airfare. Hopper also recommends you book Thanksgiving flights no later than Halloween, and earlier is probably better.

As for the Christmas, Hopper says that Tuesday, December 21, is shaping up as the least expensive date for domestic flights, while the day after the holiday (Sunday, December 26) is the priciest. Book your Christmas flights no later than Thanksgiving if you're hoping to get a decent price, Hopper says, and be prepared to pay an extra $100 or more if you're trying to reserve a flight within just a couple weeks of your departure.

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