Home for the holidays

Flying Squirrel

 

 

Now that we’re in December and the holiday music playlists fill our homes and cars, you’re likely to hear one particular Christmas tune over and over.

First recorded in 1943 by Bing Crosby as a tribute to America’s soldiers in World War II, this classic has since been covered by Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Perry Como, Johnny Mathis, Michael Bublé and Kelly Clarkson, among others.

The song is, of course, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

The song speaks of a far-away dreamer who wistfully promises they’ll be home for Christmas, if only in their dreams. Everyone wants to be with their loved ones during the holidays, but distance and cost can sometimes make that challenging. After all, it’s expensive to fly home (or fly a loved one here) around Christmastime, isn’t it? Maybe not.

 

 

If you’re creative with your travel plans, and if you’re willing to actually fly on Christmas day, you may still have options.

Of course, everyone wants to be home at least on the day before Christmas, if possible. But I can tell you from firsthand experience that my Christmas celebration would sometimes slide around the calendar to a time we could all be together.

As a military and airline-pilot family, I have lots of memories of shifting our holiday to other days. If you’re flying to be with loved ones, you’ll definitely find the best price on Christmas morning.

In a sampling of LAX departures, I found one-way tickets on Dec. 25 ranging from $205 (Miami), $178 (New York-JFK), $138 (Chicago-ORD) and $178 (Washington-National.)

These are for flights departing before 8 a.m., so depending on how far east you’re traveling, you could still arrive by late afternoon, possibly in time for Christmas dinner.

How do these prices compare to flying the days before? It’s not even close.

If you fly on Dec. 22 or 23, the one-way-ticket price for the same exact flight is as much as $300 to $400 higher.

What about flying the day after Christmas?

Well, it’s not as expensive as Dec. 22 to 24, but you’ll pay $100 to $200 more than if you fly on Christmas Day. This makes sense. People want to wake up on Christmas morning at their destination.

Assuming you made it in time, the next question to consider is when you’ll return home. What are the prices like on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day?

This answer isn’t quite as definitive. About 70 percent of the flights I sampled were cheaper if you fly on New Year’s morning before 7 a.m. Fly in the afternoon, and you’ll pay more.

For example, a Miami flight to Los Angeles would cost $437 before 8 a.m., then $547 in the afternoon. New York-JFK is $222 in the morning, then $401 later on in the day. Chicago is $222 and $329. Washington-National is $186 and $230.

This makes sense from a supply-and-demand viewpoint. Who wants stay up until 1 a.m. on New Year’s Eve, then have to be at the airport at 5 a.m.? You may as well just stay up all night and sleep on the plane.

Flying home the afternoon of New Year’s Day would definitely be preferable if you’ve been out late. Yes, you might miss a few bowl games. But if you have to be at work the next day, flying home later in the day might be a worthwhile compromise.

What about return flights before New Year’s Day?

In most instances, it’s definitely less expensive to fly on Dec. 31 than it is on Dec. 30. This also makes sense. People would rather not have a long flight on the same day they stay up well past midnight, so there’s less demand for flights on New Year’s Eve day.

But if you’re returning from, say, the East Coast, you could still be back in Southern California by mid-afternoon if your flight leaves in the morning.

So if you’re willing to be flexible with your travel plans, you can definitely realize considerable savings by flying on the actual holidays. Just revise the lyrics as you sing the song . . . “I’ll Be Home on Christmas.”

Thor Challgren is a travel writer who lives in Thousand Oaks. Email questions to thor@theacorn.com.