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Every fall, the media runs reports about how prices for holiday travel have reached new record highs, and how travelers are struggling to find reservations at affordable prices.

Even though you might still be recovering from the 2023 holiday season, there are several reasons why now is the perfect time to start thinking about your 2024 holiday plans. 

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Leverage Your Inflexibility

When booking most travel plans, you have some timing flexibility—you might even be booking a spontaneous vacation. But with holiday travel, you already know when you’ll need to go, often a year or more in advance.

For family travelers, most school districts will publish their holiday schedules one or even two years before. This allows you to plan further ahead than any other type of travel, which means you can get the best deals.

So, instead of feeling bad because you have no flexibility with your holiday travel, turn the equation upside down, and take advantage of the fact that you already know your schedule so far ahead. 

Book Airline Reservations Early

woman on airplane checking phone

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Most legacy airlines release seats for sale as many as 11 months in advance, and prices for airline travel are typically lower in both dollars and miles the earlier you book. Furthermore, one of the only good things to come out of the COVID-19 crisis is that airlines have largely eliminated change fees.

In the past, it wasn't a good idea to book a reservation so far out since your plans could change, and you could incur costly change fees. But now, there’s no harm in booking your flights early when they are cheap. You’ll still retain the option of changing your flights later, at no additional cost, other than any fare difference.

Expect the Unexpected

Another great reason to book your flights early is the inevitable schedule changes that will occur. For example, you may choose to book a discounted flight at a less convenient time, or with a less direct routing. But over the next several months, there’s a strong chance that you’ll be notified of a schedule change, and you’ll be given the opportunity to choose a new flight at no additional cost.

Of course, your new flight will be at the time of day that’s most convenient to you, and on the most direct routing, regardless of what the ticket might be selling for. 

And don’t forget to consider winter weather waivers. When there’s a storm that affects your origin or destination, most airlines will offer you the chance to change your travel plans at no extra cost. This can not only allow you the chance to avoid getting caught in the storm, but you can also change your flights to more desirable dates and times, or even fly in or out of an alternate airport in the same metro area. 

However, there are newer airlines that don’t offer flights for sale 11 months in advance. These carriers include Southwest and Frontier Airlines. This allows you to act now to earn reward points towards your 2024 holiday travel. For example, you could apply for a new credit card with a generous new account bonus, then receive it in the spring, just in time to redeem your points for holiday travel. 

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Hotel Loyalty Points Go Farther Earlier

While hotel prices aren’t as volatile as airline reservations, you’ll still have a better chance of using your loyalty points the earlier you book. For example, hotel chains like Marriott and IHG have capacity controls that limit the number of hotel rooms offered as award night stays. And those who book first will get a limited number of rooms.

Although Hilton and Hyatt both have policies that purport to offer any unsold standard room as an award, there are properties that play games with what they call a “standard room.” For example, a property in the middle of a city might list nearly all of its rooms as non-standard because they have “city views.” I’ve even seen 3-story hotels list all of their rooms on their second and third floors as "high floor” rooms, unavailable on points. 

Because of these games that properties play, you’ll always be better off booking your hotel award nights earlier rather than later. Many programs allow you to book your award night stays 12 or even 13 months in advance, so it’s not too early to do so now. Also, policies typically permit you to cancel your award stays a week out or even less, so there’s little risk in reserving a room far in advance, even if you might need to cancel it later. 

Rental Cars Go Fast

suitcase in rental car

iStock

The worst of the post-COVID rental car shortage is behind us, but that doesn’t mean that prices won’t go up as demand increases during peak periods, such as the holidays. So, there’s no reason not to book your rental car as soon as you have your flights in place.

To get the best deals, use my tips on how to get free or cheap rental cars. Like hotels, rental car reservations are usually easy to cancel. 

Bottom Line

The difference between an affordable, enjoyable holiday trip, and an expensive, inconvenient one is often determined by when you booked your travel reservations. Book your holiday travel plans at the beginning of the year, and you’ll have a better chance of it all working out at a reasonable price. But wait until fall or even summer, and your trip might be more memorable, but not for the reasons that you’d like. 

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Jason Steele

Jason Steele is a journalist who specializes in covering credit cards, award travel and other areas of personal finance. As one of the nation’s leading experts in the credit card industry, Jason’s work has been featured at mainstream outlets such as Yahoo! Finance, MSN Money and Business Insider.