There's going to be almost 1 million more people flying this Christmas travel season than last, according to Airlines for America. About 44.3 million Americans will take to the skies between Dec. 16 and Jan. 5.
That means there's 1 million more people competing for cheap flights home for the holidays this year. That increased competition has already translated to higher prices: Travelocity reports fares are 7.5 percent higher than last Christmas.
For those who haven't yet purchased flights in the hope of scoring a last-minute deal, that's not a good strategy. Priceline also reports higher fares this holiday season.
"Typically, tickets are more expensive when the departure date is less than 21 days away, and they keep moving upward as the departure date gets closer," Priceline travel expert Brian Ek said. "For anyone who still has to buy holiday air tickets, the message is simple, 'The clock is ticking.'"
Here are three strategies for finding flight deals this late in the game:
1. Purchase right now. People who purchase prior to Dec. 17 will pay $363 on average compared to the $438 that will be paid by those who wait until the week before Christmas to purchase flights, according to Travelocity.
2. Pick dates wisely. Dec. 17, 18, 25, 27 and 31 are going to be the least expensive dates to fly, according to Priceline data.
3. Pick times of the day that are normally less busy. Time of day is important, Ek said. Travelers will find the most affordable seats departing early in the morning (5 to 7 a.m.) or late evening (after 8 p.m.). Mid-day (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) is a bit more expensive, but still reasonable. Most expensive are the peak business travel hours (8 to 10 a.m. and 5 to 7 p.m.).