Cheap flights for Christmas, Thanksgiving 2019 — best days to fly, buy

FILE - This July 17, 2019 photo shows Southwest Airlines planes at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. Southwest Airlines Co. reports financial earns on Thursday, Oct. 24.

Getting cheap flights for Christmas or Thanksgiving isn't all luck — but it's not the result of endless finagling, either. Armed with tips from travel number crunchers and expert bargain hunters, you can usually get a cheaper flight for the holidays with just a bit of preplanning and as much flexibility as you can spare. Here are the high points for frugal air travel in November and December 2019.

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Start early.

Though it may seem strange to talk turkey when the kids haven't even gone back to school yet, the best time for holiday flight deals starts in late summer and early fall, according to Fare Compare travel blog. "Fares for Thanksgiving generally begin to rise on a daily basis starting in September and continue to increase into November," Fare Compare explained. "It's not much at first; maybe a dollar or two per day but this can rise to $5 per day in October and that can really add up."

The most popular days to travel for Thanksgiving are the Tuesday and Wednesday before the big day, leaving to return the Sunday after. If you can't avoid traveling on these days, you, in particular, should buy your tickets as soon as possible, Fare Compare added. "If you aren't ready to buy, at least set up a price-watch to keep an eye on your flights," it said. "Holiday fares won't exactly be cheap now — Thanksgiving fares are never cheap — but at least you can lock in the price of the most expensive days before the price hikes begin."

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Work with data from the pros.

Unless you just think it's fun to Orbitz, Expedia and Priceline incessantly, take advantage of the data that travel pros have already developed when seeking cheap flights for Christmas. SmarterTravel, for example, crunched flight price numbers from 2018 and established patterns of the best and worst days for holiday travel in 2019. They did remind holiday travelers that "best" fares are relative during the holidays. "That designation is relative to already-inflated high-season prices," SmarterTravel said. "But there are some significantly cheaper times to fly during a holiday week or weekend. These cheaper times to fly are typically on the less-popular travel days, which means you'll also be more likely to have a lower-stress airport experience." Here's what they came up with:

Best Thanksgiving travel days 2019

Monday, Nov. 25

Thursday, Nov. 28 (aka Thanksgiving)

Friday, Nov. 29

Worst Thanksgiving travel days 2019

Wednesday, Nov. 27

Saturday, Nov. 30

Sunday, Dec. 1

Best Christmas travel days 2019

Tuesday, Dec. 24

Wednesday, Dec. 25

Saturday, Dec. 28

Worst Christmas travel days 2019

Saturday, Dec. 21

Sunday, Dec. 22

Sunday, Dec. 29

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Focus on the best times to get cheap flights for Christmas and Thanksgiving 2019.

Instead of zeroing in on a particular airline, even if you earn points with them, check out the times that are usually the best for buying tickets for cheap flights for Christmas or Thanksgiving. They are not foolproof, but they give you the best possibility of saving money on holiday airfare.

According to Expedia, these are the cheapest times to book holiday travel:

Thanksgiving cheapest time to buy: October 29 – November 13

"Booking two weeks to a month in advance of travel saved travelers more than five percent," Expedia explained. "Those who booked 91+ days out and less than one week out paid the most, with last-minute bookers paying more than 20% above average."

Christmas cheapest time to buy: November 23 – December 9

"Booking during this window saved travelers around 15%, so aim to book at least two weeks to a month in advance of travel," Expedia added. "While last-minute bookers paid around 2% more than average, early birds who booked 91+ days out paid around 15% more than the average holiday traveler."