Best & Worst Days to Fly for the Holidays – Thanksgiving & Christmas 2023
As seen in our recent 2022 Christmas Travel Survey, nearly 43% of American adults plan to travel to a vacation destination or holiday gathering this year. With travel rapidly recovering, the 2022 holiday season is looking to be extremely busy, with many people flying for the first time in a few years.
There are a limited number of flights available for Christmas and New Year’s, so it is important to book as early as possible for the best prices (ideally you have already booked your holiday travel). Additionally, some days are much better than others to fly when it comes to crowds and cost. This guide will detail how far in advance to book holiday travel as well as the best and worst days to fly. For the rest of the year, see our general best & worst days to fly guide.
Ideally, you should book your Thanksgiving and Christmas flights many months in advance. As a rule, we suggest booking domestic flights at least one to three months in advance. For international flights, you should book at least two to eight months in advance, but the earlier the better. For the holidays, you should book even earlier if possible to guarantee a desirable route, time, seat, and price.
Both domestic and international flights open for bookings around 11 months in advance (for revenue and award tickets), but be careful booking domestic too early. International flights tend to be cheaper closer to the opening of the booking window. Domestic flights are more expensive when released and tend to drop in price after a few months. For that reason, you should aim to book international flights earlier than domestic, and that is especially true for the holidays.
Here are our recommended cutoff dates for booking Thanksgiving and December flights.
Thanksgiving (book before Halloween)
I recommend booking your Thanksgiving flight by late August or early September for the best price. If possible, book in June or July. Book international flights even earlier. If you wait too long, you should aim to book by Halloween at the latest. While it is possible to get a decent deal after Halloween, your chances dramatically decrease. Your odds of finding a desirable flight time also go down when booking after Halloween.
Christmas (book before Thanksgiving)
The best deals on Christmas flights are usually available through late August and early September. If possible, book even earlier in June or July. At the latest, you should book by Thanksgiving, but the earlier the better. If it is December and you still do not have a flight, you should expect to pay a premium. Additionally, you will likely only have undesirable flight times to choose from with the potential for one or more connections.
Best & Worst Days to Fly for the Holidays
Being on a Thursday every year, the best and worst days to fly for Thanksgiving are predictable. Christmas is a little more difficult since it does not fall on the same day of the week every year. Here are the days you should target and the days you should avoid this holiday season. To come up with our best and worst dates forecast, we sampled hundreds of flight prices around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Our sample included numerous departure and arrival cities around the United States.
Thanksgiving (best departure and return dates)
Our 2022 Thanksgiving Travel Survey says more than 43% of American adults intended to travel to a vacation destination or holiday gathering this year. That means tens of millions of people fought over seats for a very limited number of flights.
Best Thanksgiving Travel Dates for 2022
|Best Departure Dates||Best Return Dates|
|Monday, November 21||Friday, November 25 (Black Friday)|
|Tuesday, November 22||Monday, November 28|
|Thursday, November 24 (Thanksgiving Day)||Tuesday, November 29|
As the table shows, you want to depart early during the week. If possible, Sunday is even better than Monday. While not ideal, Thanksgiving Day is a great day to fly. Black Friday is also a good day to fly if you can swing a shorter trip.
Most people return home the Sunday after Thanksgiving, so aim to fly back on the Friday or Monday after Turkey Day. If you can wait another day, Tuesday is even better than Monday.
Worst Thanksgiving Travel Dates for 2021
|Worst Departure Dates||Worst Return Dates|
|Wednesday, November 23||Sunday, November 27|
Avoid the Wednesday before Thanksgiving at all costs. It is one of the most popular days of the year to fly, and it is expensive. Additionally, airports are always packed, so it is an extra stressful experience.
Avoid the Sunday after Thanksgiving for your return flight. Most people fly that day to get home before the workweek. I recommend flying home on Friday or Monday or Tuesday.
Christmas (best departure and return dates)
This year’s Christmas Travel Survey shows nearly 43% of American adults plan to travel to a vacation destination or gathering.. Since Christmas falls on a different day every year, the best days to fly change. Other things such as school and business closures affect the dates too. Christmas can fall on a weekend (as it will in 2022), which further complicates things. Generally, the worst day to fly for Christmas is December 23, but that is not a hard rule. If you decide to fly, we recommend taking a look at our favorite Airline Travel Credit Cards for high bonuses, free miles, lounge benefits and much more. You an also see our favorite Hotel Travel Credit Cards for the opportunity to earn free rooms, high sign-up bonuses, and more.
Best Christmas Travel Dates for 2022
|Best Departure Dates||Best Return Dates|
|Sunday, December 18||Wednesday, December 28|
|Monday, December 19||Thursday, December 29|
|Tuesday, December 20|
|Christmas Eve or Christmas Day|
The earlier you depart during Christmas week the better. Americans will look to get a few days of work in early during the week before flying out. If possible, fly on Monday, December 19, or Tuesday, December 20. Sunday, December 18 is even better if you can swing it. Flying on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day is ideal for cheaper prices and fewer crowds too, but you may not want to travel on a holiday.
Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, so many people will fly home the day after. Monday, December 26 and Tuesday, December 27 will be popular travel days, so try and wait until Wednesday or Thursday.
Worst Christmas Travel Dates for 2022
|Worst Departure Dates||Worst Return Dates|
|Thursday, December 22||Monday, December 26|
|Friday, December 23||Tuesday, December 27|
The two days before Christmas Eve, the 22nd and 23rd, are going to be busy travel days. I recommend avoiding them and departing earlier in the week if you can.
Avoid the Monday and Tuesday after Christmas for your return flight. Despite being the day after Christmas, many people will fly home on Monday or Tuesday so they can return to work on Tuesday or Wednesday.
New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day Travel Tips
We recommend flying out for New Year’s on Wednesday, December 28 or Thursday, December 29. Fly home on Wednesday January 4, 2023. While it is not ideal, flying out on the night of New Year’s Eve or the morning of New Year’s Day is generally cheap. Unfortunately, you will probably miss New Year’s Eve activities if you opt for an evening flight. An early New Year’s Day flight is not optimal either unless you can go bed very early on New Year’s Eve.
Avoid flying out on Friday, December 30 and the morning of December 31.
Average Holiday Flight Prices for 2022 – Thanksgiving ($400) and Christmas ($500)
With November here, flight prices are rapidly increasing for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Expect to pay on average $400 for a roundtrip Flight for Thanksgiving. For Christmas, expect to pay on average $500 for a roundtrip flight.
Those prices will vary by your destination and dates of travel, so we recommend doing your homework before booking. If possible, travel on our recommended days and avoid the worst days.
Travel is Recovering for the 2022 Holiday Season
After a quiet 2020 holiday travel season, things picked up in 2021. On most days, hundreds of thousands more travelers are going through TSA checkpoints compared to the same day as last year. The numbers are now only slightly down compared to 2019, which is the last holiday season before the pandemic.
Further Reading: What to Do if Your Airline Cancels or Delays Your Flight
Other Tips For Scoring a Cheap Holiday Flight Deal
Check out our guide to finding and booking cheap flights for additional tips. A few of the major tips may not be applicable with holiday travel (being very flexible on dates and destinations), but other guidelines can help. Here are a few of them.
- Do: Start With Google Flights
- Do: Be Open to Different Nearby Departure and Arrival Airports
- Do: Be Open to All Airlines
- Do: Be Open to Flights With Connections
- Don’t: Waste Your Time Clearing Cookies
- Don’t: Waste Your Time Browsing in Incognito
The best days to fly for Thanksgiving are the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday before Turkey Day.
The worst day to fly for Thanksgiving is the Wednesday before.
The best days are the Friday, Monday, and Tuesday after Turkey Day. The worst day is the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
It is, but it is not ideal for most people.
It is, but most people do not want to fly home on the day after Thanksgiving.
Book by the middle of September at the latest for the best price, but you should ideally book earlier. Book even earlier for international flights. Do not wait until after Halloween to book.
It depends since Christmas is on a different day each year. Shoot for at least a few days before Christmas Eve.
Avoid the two days before Christmas Eve.
It depends since Christmas is on a different day each year. Shoot for at least a few days after Christmas.
Book by the middle of September for the best price. Book even earlier for international flights. Do not wait until after Thanksgiving to book.
The Vacationer’s Final Thoughts
Ideally, you have already booked your 2022 holiday travel. If you have not done so already, there is still time to get a deal, but you need to move quickly. Shoot for the dates discussed in the article and avoid the bad ones. After the holidays are over, follow our best days of the week to fly and our best day of the week to book flights guides.
Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.
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