The travel noose is tightening. Christmas might still be four months off but if you're thinking of heading overseas in December/January, it's time to book. The number crunchers at travel metasearch engine Skyscanner suggest booking flights 17-18 weeks before Christmas could save you as much as 40 per cent on the ticket price compared with a last-minute booking. Eighteen weeks out is August 21.
According to Skyscanner, return flights from Australia to long-haul destinations such as New York and Paris are more than 25 per cent cheaper if you book in August rather than waiting until November. Flights to some Asian destinations such as Ho Chi Minh City, Tokyo, Denpasar and Bangkok will cost between 16 and 25 per cent more if you delay booking until November.
The Skyscanner data also suggests that although almost three-quarters of Aussies are planning to travel over the Christmas holidays, more than 80 per cent of those haven't got around to booking their flight tickets.
For domestic flights, no need to hit the panic button yet. Skyscanner suggests October is one of the cheapest months to book domestic travel, but after that bookings get squeezed, the cheaper seats evaporate and flight prices are on the up escalator.
Where to go?
Across Asia and the South Pacific the Christmas period is a mixed bag weather-wise. Weather in Thailand over December-January makes this prime time for visitors. Temperatures are relatively mild, skies are sunny, humidity is bearable and rainfall eases off. Same applies to Cambodia and Vietnam, although the north of Vietnam is chilly at this time. Bali, by contrast, is hot and wet. December-January are two of the hottest months, and also the wettest, with more than 300 millimetres of rainfall in each month.
Weather in Sri Lanka varies from place to place but the island's southwest and the central hill districts are at their best during December and January, and these are the regions that draw most visitors. Sri Lanka is working hard to bring tourists back after numbers plummeted in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday bombings. Australians can now get 30-day visas free on arrival and there are some great hotel and tour deals around.
Fiji is warm and sunny over Christmas but this is also the wet season, with 15 rainy days in Suva and an average of 300 millimetres of rainfall over December and January. The same goes for Vanuatu, the Cook Islands, Tonga and most of the South Pacific islands. Expect sticky heat and plenty of rain.
Most of Europe is bleak with grey skies and short days in northern Europe. In London fewer than eight hours of daylight separate sunrise from sunset on Christmas Day, and the sun cruises low in the sky. The average temperature for December is five to nine degrees Celsius and you can expect rain on 10 days in the month. Christmas markets, the lure of a white Christmas, skiing and the northern lights are some of the reasons you might find to head for Europe, but if the headline galleries and museums are the focus of your visit the relative lack of crowds makes this prime time.
The picture is a little brighter in southern Europe. Catania, in Sicily, sees nine-and-a-half hours between sunrise and sunset on Christmas Day, and an average temperature range of seven to 16 degrees Celsius for the month of December.
Where do we spend Christmas?
Christmas is one of the two periods in the year when Australians are most likely to travel overseas. Between December 2018 and January 2019 more than 2.12 million Australian residents returned from short-term overseas trips. New Zealand was the favourite, followed by Indonesia with the USA, India and Japan rounding out the top five.
In January 2019, 197,300 Australian residents returned from trips to New Zealand – the highest figure ever recorded for any single month. That's understandable in view of the number of New Zealanders who live in Australia returning to spend Christmas with the folks back home, coupled with the appeal of a trans-Tasman holiday in the warmest month of the year.
That same month also saw the greatest number of Australians returning from trips to mid-winter Japan – 85,000 – and that's mostly down to ski holidays. January is also the month when Australians are most likely to return from India, 90,000 in January 2019, another family reunion Christmas favourite, and another all-time record.
Despite the weather, Europe is popular. Particularly Ireland and the UK, still the countries of their ancestors for more Australians than any other country, and where the appeal of a traditional Christmas outweighs the bleak weather that the UK and Ireland usually lay on at that time. In January 2019, 80,700 Australians returned from a trip to the UK. Not until July do the number of Australians returning from the UK rise above the Christmas holiday figure. The same pattern applies to Ireland.
Austria is another surprise, and there is nowhere better to experience a white Christmas. Some 4700 Aussies returned from Austria in January 2019. In most years, the number of Australians who visit Austria in December is almost twice the figure for any other month. France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland also get a bump in the number of Aussies visiting over Christmas although figures for mid-year are far greater.