Christmas Airfare Is Up 10 Percent From Last Year

PHOTO: A Delta Air Lines plane taxis toward a gate between other Delta planes at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty Images
A Delta Air Lines plane taxis toward a gate between other Delta planes at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

Airlines have marked today, Dec. 16, as the official beginning of the holiday flight season, and prices are up about 10 percent compared to 2010, according to Rick Seaney, CEO and co-founder of "It's very similar to Thanksgiving this year, where airlines showed strong revenue," Seaney said.

Simply put, if you still haven't bought your plane tickets for Christmas or New Year's, buy them now.

Still Looking for a Deal?

Buyers who are still looking for deals and haven't bought tickets must be more proactive, flexible, smart and settle on what Seaney calls "a better bad deal." Knowing when to fly and being flexible will be the key to finding last-minute deals for the holiday season.

Cheapest Days to Fly On

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An internal FareCompare study of holiday ticket prices among the top 40 cities in the U.S. for holiday departures (purchased on Dec. 13) shows that Christmas Eve, Saturday, Dec. 24, is the cheapest day to fly, and flying on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, will yield you a decent deal with the possibility of an empty middle seat, as fewer people fly on the holiday itself. For a return trip, leave the Tuesday after Christmas, Dec. 27, to get the best deal.

Days to Avoid Overpaying for Holiday Flights

Avoid the most expensive days to fly: The Monday after Christmas (Dec. 26) and the day after New Year's (Jan. 2). These are high-traffic days, as most people have these days off and airlines are charging peak travel surcharges. One thing to keep in mind: "Prices drop dramatically the Tuesday after the New Year," Seaney said. This kicks off the "dead zone" time frame for flying, when people don't fly as much.

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Find Savings by Flying Low-Cost Carriers

In addition to choosing which days to fly, those who are in the hunt for last-minute deals must also be flexible in which airline to fly. This year, low-cost carriers are the front-runners in offering the lowest average airfares at the last minute. Buyers have to weigh their loyalty and mileage points toward the cost of the ticket.

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Cheapest Destinations for 2011 Holiday Travel

Competition plays a significant part in the price of an airline ticket. FareCompare analyzed the eight cheapest departure cities, as well as the eight cheapest destinations. San Antonio, Texas and Oakland, California lead the top spots for the cheapest destinations and departures cities respectively. The one city that made both lists? Chicago.

Be Flexible, Book Now

Remember, it's the holidays, so expect lines to be longer, wait times to increase and flights to be full. Book your tickets now and avoid paying those last-minute extravagant prices. Having a flexible schedule will allow you to book with ease and while you're at it, don't forget to follow these holiday travel tips.

FareCompare's Top 5 Holiday Travel Tips

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1. Packing – Know how long you're going to be gone, and pack according to weather trends and destinations. Need a coat? Wear it on the plane to save space in your luggage. Carry-on bags help you avoid all the checked-bag fees.

2. Flight delays – It's winter everywhere and delayed and canceled flights will happen. Know your carrier's phone number if you have to arrange another flight. Don't jump in a long line to rebook a canceled flight – hop on a terminal train, exit security or find a VIP lounge (they won't turn you away) to get that ticket rebooked.

3. Technology – Download your carrier's apps to your phone, save its phone number and get a flight-tracking app as well. Also, sign up for text alerts for your flight. Sometimes you'll get a text about a change before it's announced at the gate. Do it for your family and friends on the other end as well, so everyone is on the same page about pickup times.

4. Flying Families – Pack a backpack for your kid(s) to make sure they stay entertained throughout the entire trip. Make sure to include snacks, to save money at the airport and on the flight -- extra batteries and unpacked chargers are gold if you get stuck at the airport.

5. Gifts – If you have to bring them on the plane, don't wrap them, as security may just make you unwrap them. Best bet: Mail them to your destination. It might cost a little, but it will save space in your luggage.