Here’s the best time to save on holiday airfare this year

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Yes, it seems like we've just finished up summer vacation, but it's already time to start planning holiday travel. With airfares on the rise leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas, and COVID-19 restrictions in flux, NBC News senior business correspondent Stephanie Ruhle wants you to be prepared so you can save more money and make the most out of your trip.

When to book

Although many of us are still in back-to-school mode and enjoying the last few days of summer, it's time to start booking those holiday trips.

"I know it's only September but start booking your holiday travel now," said Ruhle. "According to the travel booking app Hopper, the cheapest fares for Thanksgiving and Christmas will be this week, so start doing your homework."

Travelers can expect to find domestic Thanksgiving fares pricing out at around $300 round trip, which is down slightly from pre-pandemic levels. As for Christmas, domestic flights will be even more expensive than in 2019, at around $430 per trip.

"Even if you don't have plans in place for the holidays yet, booking before Halloween will save you up to 40 percent on fares for Thanksgiving and you'll want to book your Christmas trip before you're putting that turkey in the oven," said Ruhle.

And if you're celebrating Hanukkah, remember that this year it starts the Sunday after Thanksgiving, so keep an eye on those dates, too.

COVID-19 concerns

While travel restrictions have eased up, it's a smart idea to triple check your airline, hotel or other carrier's refund, change and cancellation policies. "A lot of airlines are still being pretty flexible, but you need to look into whether or not you might get charged," said Ruhle.

Another thing to consider is travel insurance. "Not every plan will cover COVID-related issues, so make sure you read the fine print and shop around for a plan that meets your needs," said Ruhle.

You'll also want to keep an eye on the local situation and any mandates where you are traveling. "This is especially important if you're traveling internationally," said Ruhle. "Some countries may still require a quarantine period or testing upon entering and leaving the country, and you don't want to be looking for a PCR test the day before you're supposed to go home."

Bottom line: Do your homework in advance.

"Domestically, you'll want to monitor case counts where you're going," said Ruhle. One way to make travel much safer is, if you are not vaccinated yet, to go get a shot. Do it now and you can still be fully vaccinated before Thanksgiving.

Best times for travel

Everyone is looking for a good fare, so check your calendar and try to be flexible with travel dates when you're booking.

"Hopper tells us the cheapest day to travel domestically for Thanksgiving is Monday November 22," explained Ruhle. So if you're still working from home, it might be a good idea to look for a deal on that day and then work from your destination for a few extra days.

For Christmas, Thursday December 21 will be the day to grab the best fares if you're traveling domestically. For international travel, if you can wait to go until December 23rd, you'll save the most cash.

Plane tickets are also cheaper on the actual holiday, so if you're taking a trip and can be flexible on your dates, there's nothing wrong with spreading Christmas cheer in the airport.

More ways to save

If you have travel vouchers due to flights canceled due to COVID-19, check to see if they have book by dates so you don't miss out.

"When it comes to booking travel, there are deals to be had on rental cars and hotels too, so make sure you check those out in advance for the best deals and availability," said Ruhle.

And don't forget those credit card points, either. "Points are not stocks, they don't gain value if you let them sit there, so consider using them for your holiday travel this year," said Ruhle.

For more great tips on saving money, visit On The Money TODAY.

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