Santa is back at the neighborhood mall and planning a trip for Christmas is back in the minds of millions of Americans. After a very uncertain Christmas travel season during the height of the pandemic in 2020, Hopper is forecasting we’ll see around 2 million travelers each day around the Christmas holiday in 2021. This is around 80% of 2019 levels and about double the numbers in 2020.
Of course, some days will be significantly busier (and more expensive) than others. For instance, last year 616,469 people passed through a TSA checkpoint on Christmas Day but around 1 million travelers were screened on most other surrounding dates.
When to Fly for Christmas 2021
If you want to find a deal for Christmas travel, you’ll want to book early and be as flexible as possible with travel dates. In mid-October, data from Hopper suggested that domestic airfare for Christmas was averaging around $390 round-trip. According to Cheapair, that average price has shot up to around $490 as of mid-November.
But even if the average price has increased, you can still lower your fare by avoiding the busiest travel days or choosing to fly with budget carriers, which could save a considerable amount of money depending on the route you’re flying and how much luggage you carry.
What Are the Worst Days to Fly for Christmas 2021?
Since Christmas Day falls on a Saturday this year, the busiest days to travel are very similar to what we would expect any other week of the year. If you’re looking for the least expensive tickets, it would be best to avoid these travel dates, if at all possible.
- Saturday, December 18th
- Sunday, December 19th
- Thursday, December 23rd
- Sunday, December 26th
- Monday, December 27th
Sunday, December 26th is going to be the most expensive day to travel overall as Sunday is normally the busiest day of the week to travel and also happens to fall on the day after the holiday this year, which is when most travelers will be eager to fly back home before the start of the week.
Cheapair suggests that you can save over $125 per ticket, on average, if you fly back on the Tuesday after Christmas rather than Sunday. This more-or-less agrees with a few searches I conducted for some popular routes.
For example, when searching for roundtrip, nonstop flights from Chicago (ORD) to Miami (MIA), I found the following results for the lowest available fares. Note: Prices were researched on November 13, 2021, and will likely change before publication.
Thu, Dec. 23 – Sun, Dec. 26
- $281 on Spirit
- $517 on American
- $540 on United
Thu, Dec. 23 – Tue, Dec. 28
- $239 on Spirit
- $397 on American
- $468 on United
Tue, Dec. 21 – Sat, Dec. 25
- $142 on Spirit
- $323 on American
- $312 on United
Sun, Dec. 19 – Sun, Dec. 26
- $301 on Spirit
- $517 on American
- $385 on United
Tue, Dec. 21 – Tue, Dec. 28
- $181 on Spirit
- $323 on American
- $313 on United
As you can see, there are some drastic differences in price if you’re able to either fly back on Christmas Day or extend your trip and fly a few days early or a few days later after the holiday. And you could save a considerable amount if you’re willing to fly an ultra-low-cost carrier like Spirit. Just keep any extra fees in mind if you consider that option.
What Are the Best Days to Fly for Christmas 2021?
As per usual, the cheapest day to fly is on Christmas Day itself. While many may prefer not to cut into the festivities by traveling on the holiday, it can be a great way to save—especially for families that do the majority of celebrating on Christmas Eve. On that note, if you do celebrate more on Christmas Day, you may want to consider flying in on Christmas Eve when flights will be cheaper than busier travel days earlier in the week.
For those that don’t want to miss any of the fun and avoid traveling on the holiday, flying midweek on Tuesdays or Wednesdays will also yield some better prices this year. And if you’re flexible with work or school, you can save big by flying in before December 16th and extending your family visit an extra week. The cheapest days to fly for Christmas 2021 include:
- Wednesday, December 15
- Tuesday, December 21
- Friday, December 24
- Saturday, December 25
- Tuesday, December 28
Book Christmas Travel Before Thanksgiving
Booking well in advance is always recommended for holiday travel and Christmas is no exception. Hopper suggests that the best deals for Christmas travel usually appear around 90-100 days in advance. And data from Cheapair also shows this trend with the lowest average prices for Christmas travel having occurred between mid-September and early October.
While you may have missed out on the best possible deals, it’s still best to book sooner than later. Hopper expects domestic prices to rise 7% in the two weeks prior to Christmas and another 11% the week before the holiday. And international travel is expected to increase 23% in December.
It’s generally best practice to book flights at least three weeks in advance. For Christmas flights, this means it would be a good idea to book your flight no later than Thanksgiving. If you roll the dice and hope for a last-minute sale, there’s a good chance you’ll be stuck paying an exorbitant last-minute price. Flights are already filling up and there is little incentive for the airlines to lower prices to fill the few seats that remain when demand is high.
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