Holiday Travel Tips: How to Find the Cheapest Flights

Young woman on airplane choosing music on smartphone

Holiday travel can put quite a dent in your budget. Even though reuniting with friends and family for this special time is priceless, we at Ebates still want to help you save the most money possible. Here are a few simple tips you should know before booking your flight home for the holidays care of our in-house travel expert, Grant Thomas of Travel With Grant.


When is the best time to buy tickets?

As soon as you know what your travel plans and dates are, start buying tickets. Ask yourself: Would I feel worse buying a ticket now and watching the price go down, or waiting a few days or weeks and watching the price go up?

To find the cheapest flights, you need to be flexible. Look at nearby airports to your departure and arrival city. If you live in the Bay Area, look at flights from SFO, OAK, and SJC. If you’re flying to New York, look at flights to JFK, LGA, and EWR. Most online travel agencies can search flights to and from nearby airports.

Think outside the box. Look at the price of two one-way flights versus a round trip. You can fly one airline to your destination and another airline back home. Being flexible is the best way to find the cheapest flights. If your travel dates are flexible, look at the monthly calendar on Google Flights to see which days of the month have the cheapest flights.

Should I cash in on my frequent flyer miles?

Redeeming miles for peak travel times is going to be a difficult task. You will either find no award space at all or really high redemption requirements for the flights you want. If you want to gamble, you can wait for award flights to possibly open up in the last week before departure. If you do not have airline elite status, you will pay up to $75 in “close in ticketing fees” if you book an award ticket within 21 days of departure on American Airlines and United Airlines. There are no fees for redeeming miles last minute on Southwest Airlines, Alaska Airlines, or Delta Airlines.

Morning flights or evening flights?

Morning flights tend to have the shortest delays, while evening flights have longer delays. Delays stack up throughout the day, so I prefer morning flights if given the choice.


Checked bags or carry-on?

Carry-on is the preferred way to go. If you are in the first half of the boarding groups, you should have overhead bin space available, assuming you board the flight with your boarding group. If you are in the last half of the boarding groups or tend to board toward the end of the check-in period, be prepared to gate check your bags. Gate checked bags are free and will be sent to your final destination, waiting for you at the baggage claim area. This is a work around for getting free checked bags, assuming your bag fits in an overhead bin. If it won’t fit in an overhead bin, you will need to check your bag at the check-in counter and probably pay a fee.

Should I bring my own entertainment?

Assume your flight will not have WiFi, in-seat power or entertainment screens and hope you are pleasantly surprised. Always bring your own entertainment (book, magazine, iPad, laptop, etc). In-seat power is on a few fights but you should always completely charge your phone, laptop, iPad, etc. before your fight. If you are power-hungry, invest in a portable USB battery pack. Make sure to completely charge the USB battery pack before your flight.


Always bring a good pair of comfortable headphones, noise canceling is preferable. You never know who you will be sitting next to or how loud they will be. Prepare for the worst and hope for the peace and quiet.



Unless you enjoy purchasing overpriced airplane food, you should bring snacks or food with you on your flight. You will be lucky to get anything more than a bag of peanuts or pretzels and a small drink on most domestic flights.

Ready to start browsing flights? Search for travel deals through Ebates to get Cash Back on flights, hotels, car rentals and more!

Prices and Cash Back Percentages are subject to change.

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