There’s no place like home for the holidays—if you can get there. Booking your holiday travel plans (if you haven’t already, of course) can get expensive. It probably goes without saying, but forget whatever fares you typically pay to fly home (or away) during other parts of the year, you’re going to pay more.
When we talk about the “best” fares around the holidays, that designation is relative to already-inflated prices. But there are some significantly cheaper times to fly during a holiday week or weekend—and those dates are typically the less-popular travel days, which means you’ll also be more likely have a stress-free airport experience.
How do you figure them out? There are, thankfully, some predictive travel insights that suggest which holiday travel dates are going to be more affordable, and which are going to see packed planes and sky-high airfare.
Best and Worst Days for Christmas Travel
Unlike Thanksgiving, the Christmas travel schedule changes from year to year. This means historical data is less useful in predicting fares and traffic. The timing of the holiday has a major impact on people’s plans, namely in how it affects school breaks and other closures. Christmas is on a Tuesday this year, which opens up the weekend for travel, because most schools and many businesses will close beginning on Monday, the 24th.
Best Christmas Travel Day: Christmas Eve
According to CheapAir, Christmas Day is the cheapest day to travel. But as with Thanksgiving, there’s a reason for that: If you’re traveling for Christmas, you probably want to avoid traveling on Christmas.
Christmas Eve, however, provides solid value too. Flying on Christmas Eve is “saving travelers an average of $76 over traveling on Saturday, the 22nd (a more popular travel date),” CheapAir says. And it may be a more amenable compromise day for people balancing their budget with quality family time. Kayak’s historical data shows that Christmas Eve is a good choice in general, too, being significantly less expensive than the 22nd and 23rd.
Other Good Christmas Travel Days:
- Sunday, December 23
- Friday, December 28
The problem with extending the travel window into the weekend is that lots of people can and will take advantage of it. According to CheapAir, the weekend prior to Christmas is tough sledding for travelers this year, with only Sunday presenting decent value.
When it comes to returning home, Friday the 28th hits the sweet spot between Christmas and New Year’s. Thursday the 27 isn’t a bad choice either, but CheapAir’s data points toward Friday as the better value.
Worst Christmas Travel Days:
- Friday, December 21
- Saturday, December 22
- Wednesday, December 26
So, while the weekend before Christmas is open this year, it’s also looking to be a tough time to fly. The Friday and Saturday prior have some of the highest fares of the season, according to CheapAir, as does the day after Christmas.
Editors’ Note: This story has been updated. The below information was published in October 2018.
Best and Worst Days for Thanksgiving Travel
Thanksgiving has some fairly consistent travel trends year-to-year due to the fact that it’s always on a Thursday, and most non-retail and non-food service businesses close the Friday after the holiday, as do schools. This means that most people are locked into certain travel dates: Schools may close the day after Thanksgiving, but class is in session the day before, forcing parents to travel that afternoon, assuming they can’t or won’t let their kid skip a day.
Long story short, the “best” Thanksgiving travel days are limited. Depending on your scheduling circumstances, they may not be that great after all.
Best Thanksgiving Travel Day: Monday, November 19
Data from CheapAir shows that the Monday before Thanksgiving offers the best fares, and historical data from Kayak backs that up.Flying the Monday before Thanksgiving means “you can save about $40/ticket on average over flights on the day before Thanksgiving,” CheapAir says. You’re also likely to find reduced crowds compared to later in the week, and you’ll have a few spare days in case weather interferes with your flight.
Other Good Thanksgiving Travel Days:
- Sunday, November 18
- Thursday, November 22 (Thanksgiving)
- Friday, November 23
- Tuesday, November 27
Traveling on Thanksgiving is typically a great deal, and the reason is obvious: No one wants to. Most people want to be at their destination on Thanksgiving morning, not heading to the airport. But if you can fly out early in the morning, you’ll usually find lower fares and emptier airports, and hopefully arrive in time for an afternoon dinner.
CheapAir shows that the Sunday before Thanksgiving is also a good deal, and tends to be less busy, probably because many people don’t take the full week off. Historical data from Skyscanner confirms this to be typical of most Thanksgiving seasons. So consider putting your unused vacation days to use this Thanksgiving.
When it comes to traveling home, Friday is a solid value as long as you don’t mind a shorter visit. Saturday tends to be busier and more expensive, but still reasonable. And if you can swing it, CheapAir says the Tuesday after Thanksgiving is a great deal, with an average savings of “$209 per ticket just [for] delaying your return home a couple of extra days.”
The Worst Thanksgiving Travel Days:
- Tuesday, November 20
- Wednesday, November 21
- Sunday, November 25
Tuesday is when Thanksgiving travel ramps up, leading into what’s usually the busiest travel day of the year on Wednesday. Not only are fares high due to heavy demand, but the sheer number of people traveling means airports and aircraft will be packed. Avoid flying on these days if you can.
Sunday is the most difficult and expensive day to travel home. In fact, CheapAir says it’s the priciest single travel day of the entire Thanksgiving holiday period.
Readers, when are you traveling this year?